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Town votes on plan for future of Whitmire Property

The Whitmire Property sits just under 13 acres and was purchased for $1,575,000 in November 2004 by the town of Franklin. 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 nearly two decades.

During the July meeting of the Franklin Town Council, Joel Storrow, a senior principal at McGill Associates, provided an overview of the Whitmire property before introducing Kurtis Durrant and Jim Ford, who presented a plan proposal for recreation at the Whitmire Property. McGill and Associates presented the findings of the recently conducted comprehensive recreation study, which included two public input sessions and an online survey. 

The Town of Franklin provides public parks for its citizens and visitors as a means of supporting a high quality of life. According to the report from McGill, studies have shown that quality of life is very important to residents and visitors. Extensive research also demonstrates the positive economic impact of recreation, parks, and tourism on local economies. Lively programs and events also have a major impact on community economic development and a sense of unity within a community.

A preliminary opinion of the probable cost was developed for the Whitmire Property Master Plan. The provided opinion of probable cost includes assumed general expenditures such as site preparation, building structures, access, site utilities, parking, and specific park development features. The projected cost for implementing the proposed park is $7,534,320. 

To accommodate the needs of the community and mitigate project costs the proposed plan specifically recommended that the Town break the development of the park into phases. 

“To ensure the implementation of successful park projects, they need to be broken down into manageable project components,” reads the plan. “Phasing must account for the complex set of interdependencies between investments in project infrastructure and the need to establish a “sense of place” and completion-even though the ultimate build-out of the park project will progress over some time.”

The approved master plan noted that the Whitmire Property currently is currently a blank slate with an open field and an 18-hole disc golf course as the only amenities on site. At the core of the Final Site Master Plan are opportunities to expand recreation, enhance community social gatherings, and support health and wellness within a park that the town of Franklin and its residents can enjoy. 

The plan recommended the development of an amphitheater with a large open lawn, a large multi-use pavilion that can be utilized for a variety of events such as a farmer’s market, family reunions, and community gatherings, two dedicated pickle ball courts, a meditation space amongst the existing bamboo, a paved trail network that circumnavigates and park and connects surrounding neighborhoods, and a natural surface trail that connects the upper and lower sections of the park.  

The plan includes gathering spaces and play places for multi-generational visitors include a large picnic pavilion with adjoining restroom facilities, small picnic shelters, picnic areas with tables under old-growth threes, seat walls with and without shade sails with an adjacent plaza space, and a disc golf practice area.

Other amenities such as pickleball, a multi-use pavilion, and a variety of play features such as a climbing wall and an adventure play area were also identified as helping to ensure that the park is able to serve multiple generations. One specific addition to the property identified in the plan was a bike pump track. The proposed plan noted that constructing a bike pump track adjacent to the skate park will provide access to activities with similar uses. The bike pump track will allow users a space to hone skills and introduce newcomers to the sport. The proposal recommends that the skate pad that is currently under development at the park be used as a shared element with the bike pump track.

During the discussion, Council member Stacy Guffey expressed concern about the lack of American Disabilities Act (ADA) playground areas in Macon County, a concern that has been echoed by county leaders over the last few months. Guffey emphasized the need for an inclusive playground where physically-challenged children can play. Ford mentioned that if the town wants to pursue ADA accessible park options, there are a multitude of grants and funding opportunities available to assist in costs. 

“The Whitmire Property Master Plan strives to utilize universal design principles whenever reasonably possible to enhance the user experience,” stated the plan. “Universal design does not remove all impediments of use, site considerations, financial limitations, and other factors that can play into the final design of a park.”

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