New developments add to Franklin's vibrant city center.
With its stately Victorian architecture, frequent festivals, and eclectic mix of retail shops and restaurants, Downtown Franklin is without doubt the heart of Williamson County. But Franklin businessman Rod Heller believes the city’s downtown is positioned to become the beating center of greater metropolitan Nashville.
“People come to Williamson County for many reasons – obviously great schools, great people, excellent transportation, good tax structure. But Franklin is a unique historic town that offers so many attractions to people, and we feel Franklin has the potential to be the geographic as well as cultural and historic center of greater Nashville,â€ Heller says. “I’ve traveled extensively and found that in any city, there’s one great area that draws people, and we think Franklin has the potential to be that area for the metropolitan Nashville area.”
Heller is a codeveloper of Harpeth Square, a proposed $80 million development that will include a four-star boutique hotel, a luxury apartment building, and more than 40,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space on the northernmost of downtown’s 16 blocks. Construction is scheduled to begin in fall 2015 with full occupancy expected by 2017. The development will join a host of art galleries, upscale shops and boutiques, restaurants, and cafes that have been revitalizing downtown for the past few decades.
“When I moved to Franklin, it was at its low point,â€ says Mary Pearce, executive director of the Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County. “I moved here in 1978, and there were 18 businesses vacant. Today, vacancies are rare. There are people walking down the sidewalks, browsing in the shops and boutiques, eating at the many restaurants and cafes, or taking in a show at the Historic Franklin Theatre. Bringing life back to downtown has not been an overnight success story – that took 30-something years.”
Pearce says downtown has even been influential in economic development efforts.
“[President and CEO of Williamson Inc.] Matt Largen has told me that when he’s negotiating big deals, the fact that we have downtown Franklin has been very much a part of the conversation,â€ she says. “I hear all the time people say when they walked down Main Street in Franklin, they knew this was where they wanted to locate their business.”
But downtown Franklin’s value goes beyond economic development. Downtown’s contribution to the county’s historical and cultural heritage is well-noted. Pearce’s organization began working to restore many of downtown’s historic buildings in the 1980s, and in 1995, downtown was named one of five Great American Main Streets by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In fact, downtown Franklin is the nation’s largest registered historic district.
“Downtown Franklin’s vitality hasn’t happened by accident. We worked hard to keep the post office and the courthouse downtown,â€ says Pearce of the Heritage Foundation’s work. Currently, the foundation is working to restore the Old Jail as the foundation’s new home and a community resource center for historic preservation.
“It’s been a long commitment to keep the heart of our community alive.,â€ Pearce says. “Downtown Franklin is [Williamson County’s] calling card. It’s what’s unique.”