Our finest hour

Published 8:26 am Wednesday, December 9, 2009

“Gentlemen, I do believe this is going to be our finest hour.” This line is taken from the movie “Apollo 13” when Gene Krantz NASA flight director, tells the naysayers standing in Flight Control in Houston who are still predicting doom and gloom over the spacecraft returning back to earth. Krantz had faith that all would be well and their small but brilliant group of NASA engineers had done everything possible to triumph over adversity. They would prevail come the end of the day because Krantz also said, “failure was not an option.”

Upon hearing that International Paper is going to close the mill, I have pondered these now famous lines by Krantz. I know this is going to be a major blow to our community, however optimism overtook me.

For the past three years I have been trying to convince friends and acquaintances how wonderful it is to live in a small community after our 20-year residency in Virginia Beach. I found myself in real estate school this year trying to espouse the virtues of Franklin. Most people couldn’t comprehend living near the smell of the paper mill, not being able to see the reward of the hour drive home at the end of the day, to a place where church bells still ring at noon and you can see the stars in the sky when you sit on your back porch at night. Do places like this still exist? Yes, and Franklin is one.

It is imperative that our community looks forward and overcomes this major systems failure. Our city leaders need to make sure that once the mill is closed and no sale for it is in sight that it is torn down. Our city does not need a ghost of the past haunting us from the horizon. People will look upon it as failure not as progress where we are moving from industry to commerce. We need to be creative and innovative. Think of all those manufacturing and steel plants in cities up north, skeletons of the past still hanging over cities. Those communities see those empty plants and look back to what was and not to the future and what can be. They keep trying to drag the past forward with them and are failing.

We need to make sure that our city doesn’t slap up a huge red “FOR SALE” sign and that properties do not become vacant and allowed to decay. Yes, we will have members of our community that will move away for work elsewhere. It is very important that those who may struggle to keep their homes are supported and that home owners are sought out, not investors looking for rental property. It is the job of our real estate community to promote Franklin skillfully in their advertising. I cringe to think of our beautiful historical homes becoming rooming houses and rentals when we could be a fabulous bedroom community of Hampton Roads. Think of it. You can actually drive to Norfolk and Newport News without going through a tunnel. In less than an hour you can be at the ocean, and if you need to take a trip to Richmond it is only 20 more minutes in the opposite direction. Franklin is special, and it is not because there is a mill here that creates jobs. It’s because there is a community here that has a sense of history and self. We are a forward-looking community with small-town values and big-city ideas.

Three years ago when my family moved to Franklin I noticed something that I felt was detrimental to the community. A lot of our money is spent elsewhere in Hampton Roads. We need to think outside the box when it comes to commerce, not only how to keep our families from spending their money outside of our community but how do we get some of that Southside and Peninsula money to come our way to not only prosper Franklin but all of the outer western edges of Hampton Roads .

Do you realize that 60 percent of the people who shop in Williamsburg Outlet Centers do not live in Williamsburg? I travel there at least twice a year to shop. Franklin commerce is also a large draw to those shoppers who live over the state line North Carolina. The business leaders in our community need to come together with city leaders and think of progressive ways to entice big box retailers to come to our area with creative ideas and development. Franklin could be a model city on how to take economic lemons and make lemonade.

Here’s a few more ideas I tossed up to my husband who has listened to me for 20 years.

Green housing developments — new homes built using only green power

Did you know Fairfax County has a landfill that burns more than 3,000 tons of municipal waste a day, reducing land fill waste to potash, and powers 75,000 homes with no smell? And other communities send their trash to Fairfax and pay Fairfax to take it.

Riverfront economy not houses, once the mill is gone there will be miles of riverfront — everything from seasonal recreation to entertainment. Create a tourist stop for those hundreds of thousands of people who drive past Franklin on their way to Virginia Beach from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Jet noise. Yes, many of our community do not want an outlying landing field; however, the reality of the stable infusion of military personnel, their families and their income would almost overnight fill the vacuum created by the loss of the mill. The jet noise is no worse than that train that rumbles past my house at 3 a.m. in the morning. And, by the way, a jet never fell on our house either.

Let’s do something big, creative and out of the box Franklin. Let’s be inspiring to those across the country. The mill will be closing. It is a fact and our community needs to come together as failure is not an option. I believe our finest hour is ahead.