The Main Street program is run through the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The program was designed as an effort to reign in continuing threats to traditional commercial architecture in economically declining downtowns across America. In nearby Haywood County, Waynesville entered the Main Street program in 1985, as one of the first mountain towns in one of the first states targeted for revitalization.
Franklin has been a part of the Main Street program before, but town leaders doubted the program’s effectiveness and pulled out. As Waynesville has proven a model of success for the program, interest has grown in towns like Sylva and Franklin.
“A lot of communities, when seeking entry to this program, will ask ‘who is the best out there’ and Waynesville is always on that list,” said Rodney Swink, director of the Office of Urban Development in the state Department of Commerce’s Division of Community Assistance, which oversees the program. Swink’s comment was made during an interview about the Downtown Waynesville Association’s 20th anniversary, held last year.
Franklin Town Manager Mike Decker approached town board members about getting back into the program almost a year ago. The town earned its designation and began advertising for a program coordinator — a position that appealed to Deeks’ talents.
“When I saw the requirements for the job in the newspaper I thought, we’ll I’ve done all those things,” Deeks said.
Deeks, who is paid $20,000 a year by the town for the part-time job, moved to Macon County from Missouri where she worked with the Department of Mental Health and served as the CEO for the largest facility for mental retardation in the state. She also was regional director for licensing and certification for programs dealing with disabilities, and has performed a lot of volunteer work over the years.
She hopes her experience with management, public speaking and grant writing will carry over to help make Franklin’s second go-around with the Main Street program a success.
Franklin is approaching the program a bit differently this time. Rather than focusing solely on Main Street, town aldermen have directed board members to bring in Highlands, Palmer and Depot streets as well.
“They now have seats at the table, so we’re hoping that will bring everybody together in those areas,” Deeks said.
Historically, as the town’s festivals center on Main Street, merchants elsewhere in the town have been hesitant to get involved as it’s difficult to get foot traffic to travel any great distance — the fact that Main Street is on top of a large hill doesn’t help either, once you go down, you’ve got to get back up.
Deeks said that one way to potentially get more of the town involved in such festivals is to take a lesson from the recent Franklin Folk Fest, which used shuttles to move crowds about.
However, the purpose of the Main Street program — and of Deeks — is to be more than an events planner.
“Events are just a way to bring people into merchandizing areas,” Deeks said.
Exactly what the program will entail is unknown at this point, as the board of directors has yet to have its first meeting, which should be held sometime in the coming weeks.
The board already has a jump on things though — town board members have provided $17,500 to the program, a pool of monies that would have gone to the Streets of Franklin Heritage Association, Highlands Road Merchants Association, the Franklin Folk Festival, plus a little extra, Decker said.
The hope is that those organizations and events will be pulled together into one cohesive unit under the Main Street umbrella.