Last year seemed to be driven by a motto of “change is coming” as construction noises, transportation studies and zoning and development meetings kept the future on local residents’ minds. This year, Franklin Tomorrow is recognizing the inevitable change in Williamson County and working to keep community members connected and engaged.
The first FrankTalks event of the year Monday featured a panel of “top people to know for 2020,” which included Justin Foster, the general manager of the Harpeth Hotel in downtown Franklin; Adam Ballash, the development manager at Boyle Investment Company and past president of the board at Friends of Franklin Parks; and Patrick Cassidy, the artistic director at Studio Tenn.
Foster began the conversation with some behind-the-scenes insight into the design of the newly open Harpeth Hotel, explaining that it is meant to have a local and personal feel.
“As you walk in, the whole design feature is you feel like you’re walking into someone’s home, and it really flows,” he said.
He explained while many hotels have a large counter separating guests from receptionists, the Harpeth features a desk you might find in a person’s home office with a receptionist ready to make a personal connection and walk guests to the elevator.
The hotel also has a library stocked by downtown Franklin’s own Joel Tomlin, owner of Landmark Booksellers. Even the bathrooms have a local touch to them.
“We started talking about what are some of the iconic stories or books that were from Franklin, and [Robert Hicks’] ‘Widow of the South’ was one, and I was [thinking], ‘How do I incorporate this into the hotel?” Foster said.
One hotel partner suggested appealing to bathroom readers by putting the audiobook on loop in the bathroom.
“There’s been some mixed feedback,” Foster said with a chuckle. But nonetheless, guests may catch short snippets — or potentially entire chapters — of the book in the restrooms.
The building also features local coffee from Honest Coffee Roasters in McGavock’s Coffee Bar and a contemporary American menu at 1799 Kitchen and Cocktails for tourists and locals alike to enjoy. Franklin residents can not only enjoy the complete Harpeth experience with a stay-cation at the hotel, but those wanting to be live in the center of the action can also rent one of the 150 apartments in the building.
Foster said he hopes the hotel brings attention to businesses and attractions beyond the Public Square.
“We’ve all been downtown Franklin, and it kind of stops once you hit the square,” he said. “This development — and there’s another development there — will start to stretch the Main Street, and it will help those businesses that have been in business between us and the square.”
Responsible for many of the developments throughout Franklin, Williamson County and the greater Nashville area is Boyle. The Memphis-based company expanded to Middle Tennessee in 2001, and Ballash entered the scene a few years later. He now oversees much of the development in the region, including the upcoming McEwen Northside development in Franklin, a mixed-use facility adding to the rising number of developments of this type.
He explained that Boyle seeks to manage its developments long-term, rather than immediately selling, to continue to engage with and serve the community.
Ballash also shared the projects on the Friends of Franklin Parks agenda for this year, focusing on Harlinsdale Farm.
“As development has continued in Franklin and Nashville, obviously, we’ve seen that constriction of some of the open space and park spaces,” he said. “For, really, one of the first times, since I’ve been here — since ’05 — we started hearing complaints about quality of life factors in Franklin.”
A lack of open space and connectivity, Ballash said, were two of the main complaints from residents. Friends of Franklin Parks has worked over the years on projects at Harlinsdale, and this year, the projects continue with a campaign to restore the historical Hayes House and public-private partnerships to restore the main barn and create a second walking bridge over the Harpeth River.
Franklin Tomorrow Executive Director Mindy Tate added her organization will also work with Friends of Franklin Parks and the city of Franklin on a southeast park and inclusive playground.
Finally, Tate introduced Cassidy to the crowd, a person who represents change in and of himself as he recently moved to Franklin after living in Los Angeles and New York most of his life.
He comes from an entire family of performers and has quite the acting background himself, on Broadway and television. He later pursued a desire to pass on his knowledge and began to teach acting, and he is continuing to lead actors in this new role with Studio Tenn.
“I feel honored to be here, and I feel honored to give as much of my experience and knowledge to bring musical theater here in Franklin,” Cassidy said.
He explained, as Tennessee celebrates the centennial year since the state’s ratification of the 19th Amendment, Studio Tenn prepared its season around celebrating women. February will feature “Steel Magnolias;” March will be “The Aretha Legacy,” centered around Aretha Franklin; and in May, “9 to 5.”
“And if I have anything to do with it, Dolly Parton will be there,” Cassidy said, garnering laughter-filled applause from the audience.
As the guests wrapped up their conversation, many of the 120 registrants for the event swarmed the panelists, ready with a business card and a question.
To learn more about Franklin Tomorrow and the organization’s community events, visit franklintomorrow.org.