Chelsea Schneider, Municipal Innovations Specialist
Francesville residents like to say their small town is a quiet farming community where people watch out for each other’s kids. It’s a place where patriotic music plays over speakers in downtown on July 4th. And it’s a place where a growing Fall Festival serves up the traditional fish fry and chicken dinner every year.
But it’s also a place that recently experienced the loss of a prominent company, whose surprise departure from Downtown Francesville left town leaders concerned. Instead of focusing on the negative, the leaders used the company’s leaving as a catalyst for community development.
Now, new businesses, including a hair salon and restaurant boasting a food truck, have moved or are planning to move into downtown. What’s more: the town started a community development organization, The UpTown Project. The organization spearheaded a new project at the high school where students will develop a YouTube channel to highlight town events.
“There is a nucleus here that loves this community, and we just wanted to do something to try and save our town,” said Darlene Mellon, president of the group that’s earned Francesville statewide recognition. “You have to broaden the base in order to attract more people, and we want our young people to become involved. So we need to do whatever they are doing. We need to tap into their Facebook, and their Twitter, and their Snapchat.”
Already, a gazebo was created in downtown with a courtyard to showcase artwork from local schoolchildren. UpTown also is leading efforts to paint a flower mural on the parking lot and help plan community events throughout the year.
The goal: Maintain a quality of life that ensures Francesville is a desirable place to live and attracts economic growth. This year, the Fall Festival will celebrate its 50th anniversary by honoring veterans and showcasing local talent. Among other efforts, an upcoming project sponsored by a $10,000 grant from the Pulaski County Community Foundation will build a quiet space in the town park, complete with a fountain and landscaping.
“We want people to come here, and we want them to find something they love to come to Francesville for,” said Lori Carlson, vice president of the UpTown Project.
And they want to maintain a balance that residents say makes the town special. They want to keep Francesville quaint, while growing its population.
“I have had several people tell me when they turn down Montgomery Street it’s like going back to Mayberry,” Francesville Clerk-Treasurer Linda Bennett said. “We’re a little more advanced than Mayberry was, but everyone’s yards look nice. That’s the way the town is.”