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Council splits on need to update Franklin First Development Strategic Plan

June 10, 2014

Franklin — A motion to table an update of the Franklin's economic development plan died in an unusual split-vote at the common council meeting June 3.

The Franklin First Development Strategic Plan, created by Ticknor & Associates Inc. in 2000, identifies potential areas that could be used for commercial development and set the city's 70-30 tax base goal — 70 percent residential and 30 percent commercial.

Newly elected Mayor Steve Olson, whose campaign platform emphasized a need for a new business park in Franklin, has advocated for updating the "Ticknor Report" development plan since early May. Olson had served as chairman of the Forward Franklin Economic Development Commission in the early 1990s and was a strong supporter of the 70-30 tax base ratio.

Costly update

Other council members were not as confident that the report needed an update, which would cost the city $38,500.

After several meetings and lengthy discussions about tax incremental financing, business parks, a need for more retail and the potential for an Economic Development Director, the common council was back to square one.

"I'm all for TIFs … but I don't understand why we'd spend ($38,000) to update the report just to get us moving," Alderman Mark Dandrea said at a recent Committee of the Whole meeting. "We need an expert, an economic development director, that could tell us what to do."

Olson addressed the topic at the council meeting, after some aldermen questioned the need for updating the report as well.

"So, when are we going to hire an Economic Development Director? The answer is we're not," Olson said. "There's no purpose in it. If we're not going after that 70-30 goal in the (development) plan, there's no purpose in putting a person in office and telling them to get business, because he or she obviously would not have the support of the Common Council — and I won't put a person in that position."

No consensus

Ultimately, Alderman Mark Dandrea made a motion to table the item indefinitely.

Daniel Mayer and Doug Schmidt voted in favor of the motion; Susanne Mayer and Janet Evans voted against; and Kristen Wilhelm and Mark Dandrea abstained.

"What you're saying then, folks, is what we've had for the last nine years is what we want for the next three: no action," Olson said.

Olson broke the tie by voting "no" against the motion to table the item indefinitely.

"This is clearly an issue that the incoming mayor feels is important, but at the same time, there's apparently some missing information to make it clear enough to get a firm opinion one way or another," Mark Luberda, director of administration, explained. "The item wasn't tabled, but you can say simply there's no further action on it tonight and leave it for the mayor and staff to prepare information (for) other strategies and other alternatives (for addressing an economic development plan)."

So the council moved on to the next agenda item.

"This sends a message that is unbelievable loud and clear," Olson stated, sternly.

Previous discussion

The proposal to update the Ticknor Report was first presented to the council on May 6, when some aldermen concluded that they unfamiliar enough with the 14-year old report to make a decision.

"I think the council should have a discussion of how we see the vision (of Franklin) before we … update these documents," Wilhelm said at that meeting. "… My constituents want more retail, but Mayor Olson is more focused on the business park aspect."

"We've been stagnant (with economic development) for 10 years," Olson replied. "The reason some of you never knew these documents existed was because some of the elected officials at the time decided they weren't doing it and (the report) got put up on the shelf."

The item was unanimously tabled for a Committee of the Whole meeting June 2 so that the council could research the document more thoroughly.

Ted Grintjes, who served on the Forward Franklin Economic Development Commission and the Joint 27th Street Steering Committee, advised the council during the Committee of the Whole meeting on ways to prepare for economic growth by updating the report.

"Businesses like moving to a new location and prefer it in when the infrastructure is in place or (has) a plan," Grintjes said. "You need to set a price or value for every acre and every area you'd consider for economic development. … (You need to) forecast revenue conservatively, overestimate expenses and be realistic about things. Don't forget that all of this is for the long-term. Reserve the land and make sure you get the most out of it. You only get one shot at it."

Olson echoed those sentiments for a more targeted development plan at the common council meeting.

"For the longest time, our community has relied on homegrown talent … to develop our shopping centers, but I'm looking for more financial horsepower with a broader reach than what exists," Olson said. "People say we should build a big retail development – OK, but we need someone with the money and the contact first."

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