By CANDACE BEATY, Daily Journal of Johnson County staff writer

New lights would line downtown Franklin streets bustling with people shopping at a grocery store, seeing live shows at a theater and living in condos above shops, if everything goes according to the mayor's plan.

A building that has sat empty for at least eight years could be part of the first step in revitalizing downtown.

The mayor wants to see a grocery store move into the vacant Hazelett building, and she's ready to use incentives to make it happen.

Franklin can partner with private business and offer incentives much like those offered to commercial industry, Mayor Brenda Jones-Matthews said. For example, the city sometimes helps new businesses by offering a tax break.

The city attorney will put together a request for proposals that would detail what the city is looking for. The basic requirement for the proposals will be that the downstairs space be a grocery store, which could serve as a catalyst for further downtown development, city attorney Rob Schafstall said.

Downtown already has many amenities, but a grocery store is what's missing, Jones-Matthews said. Increasing foot traffic downtown could cause a ripple effect in development, Schafstall said. Condominiums and apartments could be developed upstairs in buildings, and ground level retail would become more attractive to developers.

"The downtown is truly the heart of your city," Jones-Matthews said.

While Jones-Matthews and Schafstall have discussed the prospect of a partnering with private business to lure a grocery store for months, the planning just started.

The economic redevelopment commission discussed the idea Tuesday and gave Schafstall the nod to write a request for proposals, Jones-Matthews said.

Franklin could invest money in the project to make this happen, but a grocery store is not a guarantee. How the building is purchased and any incentives offered would dictate how much control the city has over the what happens, Jones-Matthews said.

The city could invest some money in the project and then use a tax increment financing district for the building so the city could get its investment back over time, Schafstall said.

A TIF district allows the city to capture property tax dollars and keep them in that area for improvements. The building could be its own TIF district. A possible grocery store is just one of the efforts to give downtown a lift.

Franklin applied for a $675,000 grant to rebuild sidewalks and install new streetlights and street signs on Jefferson Street. The city will learn whether the state will award Franklin the money May 11, city planner Krista Linke said.

Government-business partnerships have become important in getting revitalization efforts going, Jones-Matthews said. The county commission, city council, Franklin College and downtown business owners pledged money for the required matching funds for the grant.

Nonprofit organizations Franklin Heritage and Discover Downtown Franklin also are working to improve the historic area.

Franklin Heritage, which owns the downtown Artcraft Theatre, is working to restore the building so it can be used for more than live performances, Franklin Heritage executive director Rob Shilts said.

Shows would bring people downtown, and they could come early for dinner and stay after for coffee or wine, he said.

A market analysis of the downtown could be used to draw more businesses to the area, Linke said.

Discover Downtown Franklin members will survey business owners and landlords to learn about sales data and types of businesses, Linke said. She is also the president of the downtown organization.

The survey information will be analyzed by Indiana University master of business administration students. Results could show what types of business the area could support and what incentives the city could offer to attract business.

That information could be used by new businesses applying for grants or loans to show that the city could support the business, Linke said.

Surveys will be mailed next month, and the study will be completed in November, Linke said.

Another Discover Downtown Franklin committee is writing guidelines for downtown design. The rules eventually will be presented to the redevelopment committee and could guide what developments must look like, Linke said.