Last week, the Common Council authorized staff to explore funding options for the city as they continue to make developing 27th Street a high priority. This continuation of spending comes at no surprise to some, given that the city has pumped in millions of dollars from a variety of public funding sources to this commercial corridor. When the spending began back in the 1990s, Franklin officials believed strongly that our neighbor to the east, Oak Creek, would be an equal partner sharing an equal high interest in seeing the corridor develop to its maximum extent. However, as years turned to decades Oak Creek's interest went from a nice high to perhaps an all-time low. This was evident as Mayor Taylor mentioned prior to the Council's vote that with a new mayoral administration in Oak Creek coming soon, their commitment to the corridor was up in the air.
A lot has happened for Oak Creek since the 90s that has greatly changed the dynamics and priorities regarding economic growth for their community. With the closure of the Delphi auto plant and the continual growth of Mitchell International Airport as Chicagoland's 3rd airport in the 2000s, Oak Creek has been seen with great interest among developers looking to build a variety of projects, from business parks to retail strips to hotels. Unfortunately for Franklin, this meant that Oak Creek's interest gradually moved away from developing the 27th Street Corridor as a high priority, and rather the mindset became to make Howell Avenue from Mitchell Airport to the county line their primary commercial and retail sector.
With this new goal in place, and a full-time, dedicated Economic Development Director on the payroll, Oak Creek began securing development all over the Howell Avenue corridor. From the proposed hotels at the city limits near Howell & College, to heavily concentrated retail sections between Drexel and just south of Puetz, Howell Avenue has seen rapid growth and development. Retailers in that area include Woodman's, Target, Kohl's, Panera, Buffalo Wild Wings, Sonic and several banks. The successes of these retail centers have caught the eye of national developers, who are now expressing interest in developing the land that formerly housed the Delphi plant into a much-larger scale model of what one sees at Bayshore Town Center. In fact, Oak Creek's government made a commitment that tops Bayshore in that Oak Creek's new City Hall and library will be housed at this new "town center" development. Such a commitment only puts a cherry on top of a philosophy shared by many Franklin residents urging our leaders to drop the spending ideas for 27th Street and start focusing on our own civic center.
If there is one thing in Franklin we can all agree on, it is that civic-minded projects and goals seem to come dead last in the vast majority of minds of those holding political and civic power & leadership. When it comes to projects and ideas that unify the community, such as newer athletic facilities, community centers for the elderly and our youth, or a performing arts facility, these get marred down in debate and torn to shreds. Even ideas to appropriately create and develop our community's Civic Center District fall flat. A study on the district dates back close to a decade ago and the concept was given very little attention for revisions since the district was created back in the early 1990s.
This is a time when Franklin's leaders should be taking a cue from Oak Creek, whose leaders might be indicating to us that, like in a love relationship, the love is no more. Perhaps it's time to move on amicably and just "be friends". Franklin would be better served to pursue other options more imperative in creating a stronger community, and that would provide our own destinations we can proudly display ourselves without having to give half the credit to one of our neighbors.
Enough's enough is what I say to those on the Franklin Common Council. We must stop placing a high priority on setting aside more public funds for 27th Street. If our Civic Center District had the same public funds available as 27th Street has, this community would likely be much more pleased with the direction their city and schools are going. Instead, all residents read and hear about is how their money is used for projects and developments which have little-to-no impact or personal interest to them. This needs to change, and change soon.