Depot a boost for downtown

Published 11:24 pm Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The recent opening of the Franklin Visitor Center in the renovated train depot is a feather in the cap of a downtown district that continues to rebound from two floods.

Smiles were plentiful at the Sept. 25 ribbon-cutting ceremony — and for good reason. The collaborative effort of the city, CDX Railroad and government funding partners was long and tedious. Though the project was conceived soon after the flood of 1999 as a revitalization strategy for downtown, it took nearly a decade to see it to fruition. Champions of the project, including Mayor Jim Councill, are rightfully proud of its completion.

“The road was long but crowded with people who wanted to do something good for Franklin,” said Kurt Cooper of project engineer Kimley-Horn and Associates.

The renovation project has several benefits.

First, it preserves an important slice of Franklin’s history. The railroad depot in the 19th century was the centerpiece of a thriving commercial district. It’s important for current and future residents to understand our community’s history and the institutions that shaped it. To be able to see and experience a prominent piece of that history is priceless.

Second, the renovation converted a downtown eyesore into a beautiful, vibrant building. The value of such conversions for the downtown district’s image cannot be overstated.

The key now is to make the depot more than just a pretty building. Putting the offices of the Franklin Downtown Association in the facility was a good start. To achieve its full potential, however, the depot must become a full-fledged visitors center that becomes a Grand Central Station of sorts for outsiders who stop in our fair city.

That requires being open on Saturday, when visitors are most likely to be in Franklin. It may be impractical in these tight budgetary times to staff the depot with paid workers on the weekend, but an aggressive effort involving civic organizations and senior-citizen groups should produce enough volunteers to allow the facility to open for at least a few hours every Saturday.