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Wednesday, 12 December 2012 14:07

On the job with Franklin’s Main Street director

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Franklin’s Main Street Program has found itself in an uncomfortable spotlight in recent weeks as Franklin merchants have complained that the town’s formal downtown association isn’t doing enough.

 

That’s left the director of the Main Street Program, Linda Schlott, defending what exactly her organization does do.

“They have to realize I am just one person,” Schlott said.

The Main Street Program was launched by the town in 2007 and eventually replaced the all-volunteer merchant group Streets of Franklin.

With town financial support and a fulltime director, the town, for the first time, had someone whose sole job was improving downtown.

“That is what I do everyday,” Schlott said. “I don’t want people to think I sit in this office and twiddle my thumbs.”

Indeed, the wave of new businesses in downtown Franklin over the past five years coincides with the advent of the town’s Main Street program. One could argue the work carried out by Schlott and the Main Street program created a climate conducive to renewed business downtown.

 

What it does?

Orchestrating the four signature downtown festivals is the most visible work Schlott does, and while those events only last a day, it takes months of work to pull off high-quality, seamless events for thousands of people. Schlott also helps coordinate three parades downtown every year, which likewise takes weeks of planning.

Schlott is constantly looking for new streetscaping to boost the image of downtown.

Over the past two years, Schlott and her board have planned, designed and installed new banners on the light poles all over town proclaiming “Discover Franklin,” accompanied with a simple stenciled image of a tree, mountains, river and sun.

It wasn’t something done hastily but instead went through months of discussion by a design committee to make sure the image and branding were right.

She also plans and coordinates Christmas decorations, replacing some every year and adding new ones as the budget allows. Last year, she scraped up enough money to add garlands draped from the bridges at the entrance to town and this year added lights to the bridges. She helped town maintenance workers put up the lights herself.

At the moment, Schlott has been working on a bench replacement campaign for downtown. She has been working with the Main Street board to get private sponsors for downtown benches, which would bear the names of downtown’s original business owners and merchants. So far, two have been installed, with funds for eight more pledged.

Schlott blogs under the name “Franklin Ruby” about dining, shopping and happenings throughout town.

The primary criticism was that Schlott did not communicate with downtown merchants enough, be it via newsletters or emails or drop-in visits. That is one of the job responsibilities the town has asked her to improve but otherwise, town leaders pledged full and unwavering support for the job she is doing.

 

How it’s set up?

The Franklin Main Street Program is technically a nonprofit. But it can easily be mistaken for a town government entity. It receives annual town funding for operations, has an office in town hall, and the director is a town employee.

As a nonprofit, it has a nine-member board of directors comprised mostly of downtown business and property owners. The board decides on its own members — they aren’t appointed by the town. A town alderman and the town planner also serve on the board.

Franklin’s Main Street Program has a particularly large territory compared to other downtown associations. Its geographic reach spreads beyond the boundaries of downtown proper and takes in more than 200 businesses and 9 miles of sidewalk.

 

How it’s funded?

When it comes to ponying up money for the downtown cause, town leaders have been supportive — far more supportive than most towns its size in the region, if not the state. They give $88,000 a year to the Main Street Program to fund downtown events, amenities, street improvements and activities.

“I think it shows they understand the Main Street program and support it,” Schlott said. “They put up money for festival funding each year and a lot of towns don’t do that.”

Here’s a breakdown of the town’s allocation:

$37,500 is Schlott’s salary, plus another $15,000 in wage-related expenses, such as benefits, insurance and taxes.

$18,000 for operational costs, given with no strings attached to be spent at the Main Street board’s discretion on projects or events of their choice.

$13,000 for supplies, which is used for everything from flower planters to Christmas decorations.

$1,000 for annual accounting services.

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