• Marty

Franklin Set for Transformation


FRANKLIN — The Three Rivers City is poised for an economic revival through two major projects that will answer a longstanding need: attracting outsiders. PermaCity Life and Mill City Park have generated excitement and, more importantly, investment in the state’s smallest city.

“The city a while ago recognized that we need to increase our tax base in some way, through economic development,” said City Manager Judie Milner. “But our economic base can’t support a business on its own. We need to have something that will bring people in.” Residents initially pinned their hopes on the revival of the Franklin Opera House, which brought entertainment and educational programming back to the building that also serves as City Hall. It has proven to be a big hit locally, but it has failed to bring large crowds from beyond the immediate area.

Along came Todd Workman with a different approach to revival: arranging for low-cost financing options that encourage business owners to purchase and invest in the old buildings, rather than to simply rent space. He created a nonprofit organization to facilitate the rehabilitation of downtown buildings and attract new businesses.

“At PermaCity Life, we recognize that encouraging property ownership as a redevelopment strategy is a unique approach which has many advantages,” Workman said.

That approach attracted the attention of the Franklin City Council, and Milner said they agreed to assist with grant-writing and other forms of funding to help Workman purchase and fix up some of the old buildings.

The Capital Regional Development Council recently awarded a $5,000 grant to PermaCity Life to help support a condominium conversion plan for three mill buildings, which will transform them into eight commercial and five residential units. The grant will allow the organization to prepare site plans, surveys, and legal documents to obtain planning board approval of the subdivision.

“We believe, with CRDC’s assistance through this grant funding, we can develop a plan that will create an ‘owner-operator’ which will create pride in ownership,” Workman said.

“Favorable financing terms will likely yield debt service payments equal to or less than pro-forma rents. This will improve cash flow and encourage owners to invest in their business expansion. It's great for the business owner and great for Franklin.” 

Mill City Park

Milner said that, when Marty Parichand approached the city with a proposal for a whitewater park in downtown Franklin, there was some skepticism about it. That evaporated when Parichand provided information about other successful whitewater parks and a study that showed such a park could boost Franklin’s economy by $5 to $6 million per year.

The first whitewater park was developed in Salida, Colorado, a city very much like Franklin.

Instead of being a mill city, Salida was a major railroad city, with a switching yard and roundtable, before the rail industry disappeared, leaving that city in much the same shape as Franklin after its mills closed. Mike Harvey designed a whitewater park that revived Salida, and Milner said a restaurant at the water’s edge which had grossed between $400,000 and $500,000 a year is now making $4 million a year.

Parichand, owner of Outdoor New England on Central Street, said he was able to raise $35,000 for a feasibility study through crowdfunding, donations, signature events, the sale of T-shirts, mugs, and cozies, and a $10,000 grant from the Horne Foundation.

“After that, things started moving in a positive direction with the city,” he said.

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