Business NH Magazine | Aug. 27, 2020
With approvals and permits issued by the NH Department of Environmental Services, the City of Franklin is poised to become home to the first whitewater sporting venue in New England, Mill City Park. Fans of kayaking, surfing, paddle boarding, tubing and canoeing will be able to play on Olympic-style features in a section of the Winnipesaukee River.
Funding for the project has been led by local businesses, with the largest contribution of $250,000 made by Franklin Savings Bank. “We had been awarded $500,000 in Community Development Finance Authority tax credits when COVID hit so businesses were nervous about committing,” says Franklin City Manager Judie Milner. “But CDFA extended the window to sell and we have $233,000 committed so far.” She says while COVID-19 has led to some delays, with the permits in place, construction on some parts of the project will begin soon.
The river has long been an economic driver of the city, first powering mills, and now, officials hope, powering tourism. “This community was formed around the rivers and was thriving as a mill community,” says Milner. “In the 1970s, when the last mill closed, we became one of the poorest communities in New Hampshire and we have had a hard time reinventing ourselves and finding another economic driver.”
She says the key was Todd Workman, who grew up in Gilford and started buying downtown properties with a dream of turning Franklin into a model city focused on permaculture, or self-sustaining practices. He founded PermaCityLife to take the lead in structuring public-private financing opportunities and partnerships to advance the city’s resurgence.
“The economic development team hired Neil Cannon to develop a strategy downtown,” says Milner. “He was the biggest nonbeliever until a study conducted by the NH Department of Business and Economic Affairs estimated that when completed, Mill City Park will attract 162,000 annual visitors and will generate direct spending of more than $6.8 million.”
Milner says it’s a win for the region as Tilton has hotels and Northfield has Highland Mountain Park. She adds that Franklin has 155 miles of mountain bike trails, lakes and local skiing. “The Winnipesaukee River Trail will end at the whitewater park,” she says, adding the 47-mile Northern Trail is also nearby. “We have a little ski area and disc golf courses. We suspect the whitewater park will be the anchor.”
For more information visit millcitypark.com.
For a recent profile of Franklin, visit businessnhmagazine.com/article/franklin-from-troubled-waters-to-whitewater-park.