Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer

Over the last few years, town leaders have touched on the fate of the Whitmire Property, but actual plans have never been pursued. Community members have presented in-depth proposals on how to turn the property into a public park or requested the preservation from a historical standpoint, but until Monday night, it has all been talk.

Monday night, Franklin’s Town Council voted to spend $13,800 out of the town’s contingency budget to contract with Martin-McGill Consulting – now known as WR-Martin Management Consulting – out of Asheville to develop a plan for the property. The Whitmire Property sits just under 13 acres and was purchased 12 years ago by the town of Franklin for $1,575,000. At the time, town leaders wanted to construct a new town hall on the property, but that was later changed and the new town hall was built on Main Street instead, leaving the property to go unused for more than a decade.  The property was last appraised at $2.15 million in August 2008.

WR-Martin pitched the town Monday on a plan to assess the property and devise a plan on what uses best suit the town of Franklin and the community at large. The firm will identify three potential uses of the property and design a process for examining those potential uses and recommending the alternative uses that appear to yield the greatest economic and quality-of-life returns to the Franklin community.

The process will included convening a project leader group comprised of the Franklin Town Manager Summer Woodard, other town and community leaders and members of the WR-Martin team to provide oversight and direction.

The consulting firm plans to collect the history of the property and all known information, such as surveys, studies, plans, and documents related to the property, which should be fairly simply considering McGill Associates was the firm hired to develop the original plans on the property in 2008.

While town leaders will have significant input throughout the process, the recommendations presented by WR-Martin in the end will still only be a recommendation for Franklin to consider. The ultimate decision on the property will still be up to town leaders. Councilman Joe Collins has made the Whitmire Property a priority since being elected and has led the charge in urging the town to make a move one way or the other.

The town’s $13,800 covers the cost of the scope of services to develop the plan but does not consider optional work that may be addressed in the scope of services or any architectural or engineering services. The project will be assessed monthly for progress to track expenses and potential future costs.

The board voted unanimously to move forward with an assessment of the property as a means to find some direction. Town leaders have said whether it be finding a mixed use for the property, selling it, or searching for a private/public partnership opportunity, the town wants to explore all options to decide what will be most beneficial for the town of Franklin.