At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.

Franklin Main Street Program takes a break

Without much warning, the Franklin Main Street Program board of directors decided last week to suspend the program.

The board voted to place the program in “inactive status” for the time being until it could regroup and reorganize. The decision comes after several years of criticism regarding the program’s priorities and effectiveness.

“At this point, I feel it would be the right time for the board to step back and assess how it wants to proceed,” said board member Sissy Pattillo in a press release. “I have been involved with the Franklin Main Street Program since it became active again. If you look where we were and where we are now, we have made great strides.”

Franklin Town Manager Summer Woodard, who serves as a town liaison on the board, said she felt like the board members were all on the same page after their discussion. As for whether the board will continue to meet in order to plan for the future, Woodard said that would be up to the board. 

“I have very mixed feeling about it,” said Joyce Handley, a town alderman and Main Street Program board member. “I hope it won’t be long before we can get back up.”

She said the states’ Main Street Program required them said to do a variety of things that she doesn’t think the organization is set up to do. 

Handley said board members plan to continue to meet as needed to come up with a plan. In the meantime, projects already in the works, including improving sidewalks, will continue as planned. She said one possible solution might be to change the name of the organization, get out from under the state structure and come up with a structure that works better for downtown Franklin. 

Another problem was that many board members had served for 10 years while others kept resigning from the board because they became frustrated by the stagnant situation. Handley said she hoped more people with fresh ideas would get involved in the next phase. 

“Everyone was getting tired and frustrated — that’s typical everywhere,” she said.

Woodard said having an inactive status was not the same as dissolving the program completely. 

“We didn’t want to dissolve it — we just need to take a step back and refocus and regroup,” she said. 

Dissolving the program would mean forfeiting the organization’s nonprofit status, but state requirements allow Main Street programs to become inactive for any amount of time. Woodard said the group could choose to be inactive for six months or six years. 

Suzanne Harouff, owner of Books Unlimited in downtown Franklin, said she hoped it was sooner than later for the sake of downtown merchants.

“Not being a member of the board, I’m not sure why they came to that decision,” she said. “I attended the annual workshop in February and my understanding was they were moving forward as always — trying to get their plan together.”

Harouff said she was disappointed about the decision to go inactive because of all the hoops the town had to jump through to get the Main Street Program reinstated in 2005.  

“I hate to see all that hard work not being carried on, but we’ll survive like we always have,” she said. “But there was an advantage to having it and having some organization that had structure to help keep us alive. We’re struggling just like other main streets.”

Woodard said the Main Street Program had accomplished a great deal since being reinstated, including a downtown master plan, beautification efforts, new signage and organizing many downtown festivals.

“While this program has done many good things, it has become apparent that we need to take a breather and regroup,” said board member Ken Murphy in a press release. “It is the expectation of the remaining board members that the Main Street Program be revisited in the future and become active again.” 

Woodard said the Main Street Program board also expressed great concern over the fate of Franklin’s downtown festivals and the impact on the town’s merchants and restaurants. The town is willing to accept the responsibility of hosting the four standing events — Fourth of July, Pumpkin Fest, Veterans Day and Winter Wonderland.

In September 2014, the town contracted with Tony Angel to serve as a consultant to the Main Street Program after the former program director Linda Schlott retired from the position.

“From the beginning of our discussions, Mr. Angel’s advice was to have a backup plan for a worst-case scenario such as this,” Woodard said. “I want to personally assure the town’s many merchants and restaurants that the Town of Franklin will see that these events take place and that they continue to grow.”

Mayor Bob Scott had warned the Main Street Program board back in September that it needed to get back to the four main principles of the program or the town might consider cutting its funding. Scott and some merchants felt at the time that economic development and promotion principles were being ignored while the board focused on beautification and event planning.  

Scott said he didn’t think the program becoming inactive, especially with the town taking over the festivals, would impact merchants or the public.

“I don’t think anyone will be able to tell a difference,” he said. “We have things lined up as usual except we’ll have more town staff to do it. The only difference is the money will be coming out of a different pot.”

Funding for festivals has typically come from the town anyway. As a nonprofit organization, the Main Street Program relied on private and public donations. 

Woodard said the program has been a part of the town’s budget since it was reinstated. The town gives about $90,000 a year to the nonprofit with about $19,000 specifically earmarked for festivals. The Main Street Program board agreed to return that allocated money from 2014 to the town. 

“From the town’s perspective, festivals and events are crucial to the economic vitality of the town and Franklin in general, especially tourism,” Woodard said. “I’m glad the town can step up and fill that void.”

Scott said he understands the board’s decision to regroup. Just as running a town has changed over 20 years, the Main Street Program can’t continue to operate like it has for the last 20 years. He said the partnership between the town and the program should also be examined — specifically, should taxpayer money go to fund a nonprofit organization or should it be independent? 

 “Everything will be alright,” he said. “I think some good will come out of it.” 

Larry Hollifield, owner of American Computer Sales and a former Main Street Program board member, said he didn’t think the decision would hurt downtown merchants as long as the town picks up the festivals. 

“If the board felt it was being ineffective, going inactive is right thing to do,” he said.  

He said the program could benefit more by reorganizing and focusing efforts toward all the program’s goals.   

But even without the program, Hollifield said, the downtown merchants will continue to work together to bring more people to Franklin. 

“There’s 10 to 12 merchants throwing a St. Patrick’s Day celebration,” he said. “We didn’t ask for money and help — we just all chipped in and did our own thing.”

The next step in the process will be to forward a letter of the Franklin Main Street Program’s intent to Liz Parham, state director of the Department of Urban Development, which oversees the Main Street Programs throughout the state.

 

Four principles of the N.C. Main Street Program

• Organization

• Promotion

• Design

• Economic development

The North Carolina Main Street program helps communities restore economic vitality to their historic downtowns. Using a comprehensive downtown revitalization process developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Main Street encourages economic development while also offering historic preservation.

Go to top