Franklin breaks ground on long-planned amphitheater

Picture a summer concert series, an arts-in-the-park experience and expanded farmer’s market, Chamber of Commerce picnics, enhanced festivals, expanded trails, outdoor movies and plays, a splash pad, eight pickle-ball courts and the largest all-inclusive playground in the area.

All of those things will make up Franklin’s Youngs Creek Park, which the city broke ground on Thursday.

About a year after Franklin bought and demolished the final pieces of property needed to make way for its planned amphitheater, crews will start construction on the $9 million project, much of which will be paid for out of the city’s U.S. 31 tax increment financing (TIF) district.

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The project, southwest of downtown, is years in the making, one the historic flood of 2008 set in motion, Mayor Steve Barnett said. Up to 7 feet of water poured into the businesses during the historic disaster, and smaller floods continued to wreak havoc on them ever since.

A small crowd gathered Thursday morning to watch those who had a hand in making the vision a reality shovel the first bit of dirt at the site off Monroe Street.

“This Youngs Creek redevelopment area is really the icing on the cake,” said Krista Linke, Franklin’s community development director. “As this area has had continued flooding issues, the business owners began to be worn down with constant worry, and the timing was finally right to relocate them to literally higher ground.”

The final flood-prone businesses moved out last year, making way for the city to develop the 14-acre greenspace that can absorb floodwater but also host events and festivals. In most cases, the city paid for the properties and provided cash incentives to assist in relocating the businesses elsewhere in Franklin.

This summer, the Franklin City Council awarded a $5.7 million contract to Fishers-based Myers Construction Management, Inc. for the project.

Work is set to start next week on the park, which will change the look of downtown Franklin, prompt investment in other parts of the city, prevent future flooding by creating a grassy space to absorb rainwater, get truck traffic out of the inner city, expand the trails system and create a new gathering space, Mayor Steve Barnett has said.

“They’re actually going to start the work Monday, so this really is a groundbreaking,” said Trent Newport, president of CrossRoad Engineers, P.C.

Foundation and piping work will begin this fall, and amphitheater and restroom structures will go up this winter, weather permitting, Newport said. The rest of the work, including the playground, splash pad, trails and grass, will go in next spring.

“The goal is to be ready for Fourth of July,” he said.

The project does three things for the city. It helps retain flood water by providing more area for absorption, which will help alleviate flooding at the businesses across the street, Barnett said. It is also an economic development project that is going to bring a lot of people and dollars to the city, he said.

“This project elevates Franklin’s quality of life to the next level,” Barnett said. “A project this size does take a lot of planning.”

He took the time Thursday to thank the business owners who were willing to relocate their businesses to make the park a possibility.

Speaking of local businesses, several donated money to certain aspects of the project, including Bradley Chevrolet and the Drive Hubler Automotive Group, which the amphitheater will be named after — Amphitheater at Youngs Creek Park — due to its $250,000 sponsorship, city officials announced Thursday. Also, Greenwood-based Indiana American Water pitched in $250,000 for the splash pad, a first for the city. The city continues to welcome sponsorships to help cover costs, officials said.

“A lot of people have come together to try to figure out how to make this a great downtown destination, where people can come meet their friends and come meet their fellow community members, and it’s really about creating a sense of place for people,” said Chip Orner, the city’s parks and recreation director.

The new park will include a plaza area with flagpoles, public restrooms, picnic shelters, parking lots and a playground, and be accessible on the city’s trail network. The property won’t just be used for a handful of festivals or the farmer’s market, but with the playground, picnic shelters and restrooms, families can use the park most days of the year.