The town purchased the Whitmire property back in 2004 for $1.6 million with the intention of building a new government building, but the town ultimately decided to keep its offices downtown. More than 10 years later, the town still hasn’t made a decision on what to do with the land. The current board began discussing possibilities again a few months ago and has since been approached by two different groups wanting to offer a solution.
Jimbo Ledford and several other outdoor enthusiasts in Franklin went before the board in April to propose using the land for a multi-use town park with walking and running trails, an all-wheel skate park, racquetball courts, disc golf, mountain biking trails, a bouldering wall and an open air theater for entertainment.
Heather and Clark Ball came before the board this month to make a similar proposal, except their plan would offer a private-public venture to create an outdoor education and adventure park.
“This would allow the town to maintain ownership of the downtown property while eliminating the burden of taking care of the property,” Heather said. “I feel our business concept is a perfect fit for the town.”
In exchange for use of the property, Heather said they were offering to maintain and manage the property. Revenues would pay for the upkeep and any profit could be shared with the town.
The educational outdoor center would include a garden center where people could rent raised beds to grow fruits and vegetables, a no-drip irrigation greenhouse, gardening demonstrations, educational class space, an outdoor amphitheater for performances and rental space for community events. Heather said produce from the gardens could be donated to local schools and charities.
The adventure park portion of the property includes a pump track for bikes, a skate park, a bouldering wall and a dirt track for mountain biking that would eventually connect with the greenway across the road. Heather hopes the park creates more revenue and foot traffic for local businesses.
“We intend to purchase as much of our supplies and materials locally whenever possible and work together to keep tourists, seasonal and year-round residents shopping and finding their recreation here in town,” she said. “Franklin is a strong community and by working together, continuing to work with the abundance of this rich area for eco-tourism, and continuing to build a strong network of our local businesses, we can all benefit from the town thriving year round.”
They also want to beautify the property by cleaning up brush and planting more native species, berry bushes and apple trees.
Aldermen haven’t given the presenters much feedback but thanked them for their ideas. Mayor Bob Scott said the town is taking its time and just wants to collect ideas from the community before making any decisions. He and several of the aldermen still want to see the town keep the Whitmire property for some type of recreational use but Aldermen Billy Mashburn and Joe Collins haven’t given up on the option of selling the property for private development.
Heather said the majority of the board seemed enthusiastic about her proposed park even though they didn’t have many questions about it during the presentation.
“After attending the budget meeting, I got the impression they are carefully focused on balancing proper care of the town with keeping it financially strong,” she said. “We believe this venture can help them do that while also helping us to grow our business. It is truly a win-win for all involved.”