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Jim Sweeney Exiting Post at Franklinton Development Association

Walker Evans Walker Evans Jim Sweeney Exiting Post at Franklinton Development AssociationPhoto by Walker Evans.
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After serving for 14 years as the Executive Director of the Franklinton Development Association, Jim Sweeney is “hanging up his spurs.” Sweeney has helped to oversee a wide variety of projects that the group has been involved with — both directly and indirectly — including the construction and renovation of over 150 single family homes within the neighborhood, the relocation of the Columbus Idea Foundry to the neighborhood, and the creation of multiple arts events in the area.

“We have recently closed the chapter on several multi-year projects, so the time is right for a change,” said Sweeney. “And 14 years is a long time for one job.”

When Sweeney first began in his role at the FDA, Franklinton was a much different neighborhood.

“I hate to say that I was there from the beginning of the modern era, because there were many people here before me doing a lot of great work, but I was here for the building of the bridges and the completion of the floodwall,” he explained.

There was an expectation that the new floodwall — which was finished in 2003 — would open up the real estate floodgates for new development, but that process has taken much longer than originally anticipated.

“That didn’t occur because people were still unsure about Franklinton and unfamiliar with it,” said Sweeney. “There was nothing but negative perception of ‘The Bottoms’. We decided that art could be used as a tool to get people to come over and experience the area as a neighborhood. We needed to bring more people into the community to repopulate what is largely a depopulated place.”

Events including Go West, Urban Scrawl and Franklinton Fridays have given visitors new reasons to visit the neighborhood while artists have taken up residence in galleries and studios at 400 West Rich, the Ethical Arts Collective, the Vanderelli Room and elsewhere.

“There’s always been a clear and definitive sense of place here, but that used to be very negative,” added Sweeney. “We’ve turned that on its head, and made it into a positive.”

The Franklinton Development Association was a major stakeholder that helped with the creation of planning documents for East Franklinton in 2012 and West Franklinton in 2014. Some residents have criticized those naming designations as a divider for the neighborhood, but Sweeney says that the two sides of the same neighborhood have very different needs.

“The fact is — East Franklinton is going to develop faster than the western part, which is simply a function of geography,” he explained. “But one thing we really care about, is making sure we can take that growth and energy closer to Downtown, and channel it west as quickly as possible, so that we can reinvest in the more densely populated and lower-income part of the neighborhood.”

When asked about programs and projects that he was most proud of that maybe went a little under the radar over the past decade, Sweeney had several examples to share.

“I’ve been a voice at the table for a lot of interesting projects that we did not do ourselves, and one is CMHA’s creation of Franklin Station, which is permanent supportive housing,” he said. “Many people who lived in Sunshine Terrace moved there, and I think it’s wonderful that we have permanent supportive housing. When the similar Commons at Grant was proposed Downtown, it got a lot of pushback from German Village. There was zero pushback in Franklinton. We have always had more than our share of low-income housing for decades, but we feel strongly that it’s going to be a part of our future to continue to carry our share.”

While his passion for the neighborhood still burns brightly, Sweeney is excited about handing over the reigns to new leadership. Jack Storey will serve as interim director following Sweeney’s departure on June 30th.

“This job requires energy and perspective, both of which ought to be renewed from time to time,” said Sweeney. “The organization is in good hands, and I think Jack’s the right person to run it. I have been very lucky to have a fantastic staff and a dedicated community board. And of course, Mayor Coleman was wonderful for Franklinton.”

As for what comes next for Sweeney, he’s not entirely sure just yet.

“I have not accepted another position, nor have I looked, but when the time is right, I’ll find a new challenge that suits me,” he said. “Or I may just roam the earth like Kung Fu or Jules. I don’t plan on leaving Franklinton and will always work at improving this community in one way or another. Shoot, I’ll at least improve my house!”

 For more information, visit www.franklinton.org.

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