Barnett touts growth, environmental cleanup in State of the City

There’s no doubt Franklin has grown in the last year.

The city added more than 100 new homes, with plans for hundreds more on the books. New restaurants opened on the north and east sides and downtown, with more to come. A new hotel and craft store opened, too.

New higher end, luxury apartments are likely coming to the eastside, and Franklin officials are studying a second interstate interchange at Earlywood Drive. The city also received grants to improve roads, and officials have plans to add roundabouts and make street and alley improvements.

To boot, a Fortune 500 company will bring hundreds of jobs to the city this year.

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Franklin Mayor Steve Barnett touted the city’s 2019 successes Thursday at the Garment Factory in his annual State of the City address, but also asked local business and community leaders to look forward to future growth, including road and infrastructure improvements, business expansions and sewer projects that are expected to raise sewer rates for the first time in 16 years, again making way for more growth.

"We’ve been on a journey of excellence for many years now and this year is no different," Barnett said. "We are going to continue this journey of excellence."

Environmental cleanup concerns were addressed heavily. Barnett laid out ways the city has worked with state and federal agencies to cleanup parts of the city, such as hiring EnviroForensics, a remediation consulting service.

City leaders have had weekly phone calls with the Environmental Protection Agency and Indiana Department of Environmental Management since October 2018, Barnett said.

Those conversations helped push cleanup efforts in 2019 in the city. Contaminated soil was removed from West Jefferson Street and Hamilton Avenue. More contaminated soil and an old solvent tank were removed on Court Street. And IDEM continues to address issues at the site of the Former Houghland Cannery, he said.

Multiple other sites throughout the city, including 25 different water wells, were tested and no contamination was found, Barnett said.

After years of efforts, the end is in sight. Barnett wants to be known as the mayor who cleaned up the contamination, and has made it a priority since he took office in 2017, he said.

"We are getting close to the end of this. Everyone hang in there and be patient," Barnett said.

Barnett painted a picture of the city’s growth for attendees.

"We had millions of dollars in private investment, and millions of dollars in infrastructure in 2019," Barnett said. "Franklin had another amazing year."

Two more sections of a long-planned road project along Jefferson Street were completed. A new roundabout was installed at Hurricane Road and Arvin and Eastview drives. The first phase of a new amphitheater was completed, and the city underwent a $2.8 million annual paving and alley project, Barnett said.

The city also received $1.8 million in grants to complete paving projects, upgrade traffic signals and buy fire radios, Barnett said.

Energizer made a commitment to move into the Sunbeam building on the eastside, and has committed to bringing more than 400 jobs to the city. Banks, bars, restaurants, a bowling alley, a new science center at Franklin College and warehouses had grand openings in the city.

More is coming in what Barnett has dubbed "Vision 2020," which is also a moniker used by Johnson Memorial Health officials. The hospital will be unveiling their construction improvements this spring, which was also touted in Barnett’s speech.

A new roundabout is coming to Westview and State Roads 44 and 144, Barnett said.

The east side is continuing to grow, with the likely opening of a Culvers restaurant to join a newly opened Taco Bell and Starbucks right off the interstate. A second hotel in as many years will open on that side of the town this year. Warehouses on that side of the city are expanding too and adding sewers to service those warehouses is part of the city’s plans to expand and upgrade sewers.

This year, downtown will also continue to grow with the opening of a new coffeehouse and an arts district designation.

Barnett and other city officials are working with INDOT to upgrade U.S. 31, including adding sidewalks and trails, with the city pitching in $3.2 million to the project and INDOT paying the bulk of costs at $45.5 million.

"We want to continue improving the quality of life, place and play as we move forward on this journey of excellence," Barnett said.