Franklin leaders mull downtown options

By Jennifer Garlesky • Staff Writer

Sandi Dotherow loves the town of Franklin so much that she spends all her free time shopping and dining at downtown businesses.

“This town is so wonderful,” she said.

But Dotherow also believes that the town is in need of a facelift.

“We really need to make it have a more peaceful atmosphere so that people can have lunch at an outdoor café or sit under a tree and listen to the birds sing,” Dotherow said about the mountain town she moved to 12 years ago.

Dotherow is one of many residents and businesses owners who are eager to see Franklin go through a bit of a revival.

“Look at all those empty windows,” she said while pointing to a row of second story storefronts on Main Street. “Wouldn’t it be great if people lived there, or if a small shop was there?”

Dotherow’s comments about the town were those of many gathered at a community forum on Feb. 5. Members of Franklin Main Street Program sought public opinion for ways the town can be revitalized.

“We want everybody’s ideas,” said Linda Schlott, Franklin Main Street Program coordinator.


The Plan

The forum is the first step in the planning process to spruce up downtown Franklin. Land planners and designers from Land Design, an Asheville consulting firm, listened to residents, town leaders, businesses and property owners’ ideas.

“Based on the community input, the final product will be what the town of Franklin wants it to evolve to,” Land Design’s Ryan Millard said.

The consulting firm is examining the town’s traffic flow, land use, land design and plans to create a logo or theme for the town. At the forum attendees studied several large maps that contained potential revitalization plans for areas along U.S. 441, Highlands Road, Depot Street and Harris Avenue.

One idea for the town included creating districts, Millard said. This idea is commonly used in larger cities like in San Francisco, where restaurants and hotels located near the bay are grouped into the Wharf District.

In Franklin’s case, many industrial businesses are located on Depot Street so this section could be labeled as an industrial area, Millard explained.

He says when towns section themselves into districts, it’s easier for residents and visitors to travel from one section to another.

Organizers at the Main Street Program support this idea.

“Everybody will keep their identity but be part of group,” Schlott said.

Planners are also looking at the town’s land and examining where future businesses could build or relocate to, where a park could be built and other potential uses.


Traffic woes

The firm will create a plan to help alleviate traffic congestion. Tony Snow, a traffic planner, talked with attendees about problems they encounter while driving around town.

Former Florida resident Terri Stenger says downtown traffic congestion is a serious problem.

“It needs to be addressed,” she said. “It’s always been a problem.”

Stenger suggested that eliminating parking along Main Street was a possible solution.

Dotherow agreed.

“I’d like to see Main Street with no traffic.”

Both women say the town could establish designated parking areas that are close to town and easily accessible to visitors and tourists. Both also hope that designated parking areas would alleviate some of the traffic headaches locals deal with while driving on Main Street.

“People are always speeding, and it’s not safe sometimes to cross the street,” Dotherow said.

Snow agreed that downtown traffic was a problem. Drivers must travel on East Main Street, a one-way road that leads drivers to downtown. In order to leave town, drivers are forced to exit on Palmer Street, also a one-way road.

Snow says additional roads could be added so that traffic is not always forced to use these roadways. He also recommended a landscaped median, narrowing lanes or shifting roadway patterns as possible solutions to slow traffic.

Additionally, Snow is recommending that additional signage be erected at Franklin’s three gateways — like the intersection of U.S. 441 and Georgia Road — to direct visitors to the downtown area.


A brand name

One of the final elements of the project is developing a logo for Franklin. This concept is a new element to tourism, explained Gary Carter, strategic director of brand development.

“If you want to attract visitors, you got to get that information out to them,” said Carter.

By having a logo, Carter says, visitors will be able to form a connection with the town. Other areas in Western North Carolina are adopting this idea. In Jackson County, officials are busy creating a logo for the U.S. 441 corridor that leads visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and businesses in Cherokee are starting to change their signs to feature a specific design and color.

Attendees were given several logo options to select from, such as the historic clock tower, a shovel that represents the gem mining industry, or a picture of the outdoors.

Carter says the logo will direct visitors into the town instead of just passing it by on U.S. 441.


Getting involved

Bonnie Pickartz, owner of Goshen Timber Frames, is excited about the town’s transformation.

“I fully support this,” she said. “I believe anything anyone does is really investing in this town.”

Pickartz has owned and operated her business for the past 11 years. As a business owner, she says residents and visitors need a reason to come to the downtown area.

“I see people wandering around on the weekends, but there are not businesses open,” she said. She wants business owners to change their hours. “This town has its own charm, and we want to see it freshen up.”

Friend Pam Pringle echoed a similar opinion.

“We need to make sure (residents or tourists) don’t drive somewhere else. This is about renewing what we have,” said Pringle, a part-time Franklin resident who lives in Atlanta.

Getting feedback from business owners and residents is important to the project development and Franklin’s future, town leaders say.

“We want to be Franklin, and we want our identity preserved,” said Tony Angel, chairman of the Main Street Program Board of Directors.

Alderwoman Sissy Pattillo agreed.

“There is so much potential here.”

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