In 1996, the City of Franklin joined with the University of New Orleans Center for Economic Development, in the College of Business Administration, for a strategic planning process and plan.
A sizeable committee was formed and spent many months meeting, working with university experts, identifying the potentials and drawbacks of Franklin and charting a course for its future.
What emerged was a lengthy, detailed document impossible to fully cover here, but there are some fascinating highlights I’d like to resurrect from the grave, 12 years later.
There were four sub-committees charged to each work in specific areas: tourism, education, housing and leadership.
Looking over the roster of committee members reads like a veritable Who’s Who of Franklin’s finest: my sorely missed friend, the late Russ Comeaux; Martha Segura, Judith Allain, Chip Pupera, Charles Middleton, Don Fontenot, Dale Morgan, Francis Daunt, Rose Broussard, Tony Scelfo, Ed Dugas, Murphy Ireland, Boozer Boudreaux, Raymond Harris, Virginia Tyler, Glen Collins, Gary Wiltz, Gary LaGrange…many, many more.
The tourism panel generated and adopted the following goal for tourism, according to the final report:
Generate new business opportunities through tourism development.
There were several goals stressed for this to occur. A tourism steering committee was first and foremost, to identify resources and work closely with city, parish and state officials.
Next, the beautification of the historic Main Street business district was touted. The Historic District Commission was advised to "work with Main Street stakeholders to develop and implement a master plan for sustainable beautification and on-going maintenance of the city’s Historic Main Street."
Remarkably, the report said that creating Franklin as a tourist attraction would address a big, big problem experienced by the city since the oil bust a decade earlier by "increased tourist trade, producing greater retail sales potential for existing businesses while creating opportunities for new and/or expanded shopping, eating and entertainment locations in the historic business district."
Here’s a line that ends the second point, which I think needs to be in bold print:
The third objective focuses on the City’s rich heritage as an aspect of tourism development. With the notable exception of some homes open for tours, this is a largely unexploited opportunity in Franklin.
The third recommendation was for the city to establish a Cultural and Heritage Museum commission to direct establishing such a facility.
And finally, the committee highly focused on the development of Bayou Teche as a tourist destination and attraction.
Here’s a clincher you’ll love: "Develop bayouside, incorporating a boardwalk to the Center Theater." Sound familiar?
The report identified "tourism opportunities" to include sidewalk cafés, an art gallery, the city market on Willow Street, dinner theater, a historic theme park on Irish Bend to commemorate the Civil War battle there, a seafood restaurant overlooking Bayou Teche, bayou lighting, flags and banners, a more colorful central business district and more.
In that same section, resources were identified as (some of you ain’t gonna wanna wake up and hear this!) the Rotary Club, St. Mary Landmarks Society, the Chitimacha Tribe and so forth.
The section concludes this way, and some people ought to write it backwards on their foreheads in indelible ink so they can read it every day in the mirror first thing in the morning:
Any Tourism Effort
Must Be Heritage Based
I won’t touch on education since that remains the venue of the St. Mary Parish School Board, and there’s far too much work to be done there than I want to get into right now. Let’s go to housing.
After identifying – at the time – no mechanism to convert renters to homeowners, particularly in the lower price range of homes, the panel pointed out that a huge percentage of those who work in the area live outside it, and say housing deficiency is the problem.
It recommended a zoning ordinance, which the city did adopt. It also touted residential subdivision development with private individuals, which I don’t see a lot of.
Finally, there was the leadership section.
They begin the segment with a quote: "Leadership is key to maintaining the community’s attitude. Communities that resist change, ignore new opportunities, focus only on threats and refuse to take any risks are in serious trouble," from the Heartland Institute for Leadership Development.
Here’s a fascinating finding the local panel and university people pointed out:
"The…leadership in the community was pluralistic, and not exclusively found in the political structures of the city. Leadership is also defused and leaders did not always work together or in the interest of the community at large.
"To some extent, the single-mindedness of some leaders is agenda driven, while in other cases the motivations are rooted in the institutional and/or cultural history of the community. Some members of the community linked these behaviors to deep-seated racial differences, while others noted the reluctance of those in power to nurture younger leaders from a more diverse mix (socially and economically) within the community."
The study recommend a leadership initiative to bring such people into the folds of making decisions and bringing about change.
In the conclusion of the report, the writers brutally acknowledge, "Implementation is the ‘grub work’ of strategic planning. It is the doing. It requires getting messy. It is the standard by which the process is ultimately judged."
It goes on to explain, "These plans are truly working documents that will be continually revised and updated as tasks move forward. New tasks will be added, old tasks rescheduled, and new individuals and/or resources identified … the sub-committees should plan to meet periodically to re-assess progress on various elements … identify and discuss benchmarks which may be used to measure the effectiveness of each major area of implementation … demonstrate that a goal of the plan has been reached or that progress is being made in that regard."
Apparently – and I’m open to being corrected if this is in error – after the study was done, not much was done, and what had been may have been largely incidental. It surprises me that a group of people who worked so diligently on a project walked away from it and never looked back, rather than pushing for its implementation. Had I been involved in such a groundbreaking study, I would have been hammering on the doors of officialdom regularly, demanding to know what’s been done and why I didn’t waste many months of my valuable time in creating the strategy plan.
I asked around with some of the committee members. I asked what had happened to the strategic master plan they worked so hard to develop.
"Stuck on a shelf in city hall gathering dust," is a paraphrase of the various answers.
There you go.