WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) — Community members gathered at 132 Franklin Street on Monday to tour the building before renovations begin.

The $2.5 million revitalization project plan for Franklin Street was approved at the end of 2021 by Jefferson Community College’s Board of Trustees. The funding was provided to the college by New York State in 2018 to benefit the downtown area.

The renovation will specifically benefit addresses 124 through 136 located on Franklin Street off of Public Square. Steve Hunt was present on behalf of the New York State Department of Economic Development and highlighted the impact the project will have not only in the North Country but the entire region. 

“Not only will this project restore two historic buildings, but it will help beautify the Franklin street corridor, and bring Jefferson community college into downtown Watertown, which is something I’ve been talking about since I went to Jefferson community college,” Hunt said. “It will also provide support to small businesses and entrepreneurs who are looking to grow in this region.”

Megan Stadler is the Associate Vice President for strategic initiatives at JCC. She explained how the space will benefit the over 300 students who are in business programs at the college.

“We’re going to be creating a hub for entrepreneurship education, relocating our small business development center down here, having eight private coworking spaces available for community members, specifically aspiring entrepreneurs, new entrepreneurs, small businesses, and providing educational support and training to them,” Stadler said. “So it’s going to be a very collaborative, vibrant space where people are learning and growing together to the benefit of downtown Watertown.”

82-year-old Donald Foote attended the tour on Monday and explained how he is living proof of the history the buildings hold. He said he started running his salon, “Donald’s Beauty Salon” in the building in 1965. He said it was surreal to be inside the building once again knowing that soon, someone else will have the opportunity to open their own business in the same space.

“The hair in the back of my neck stands up a little bit because to see this old building being renovated and going to be what it’s going to be, that’s truly amazing,” Foote said.

Reg Schweitzer is the Executive Director for the Neighbors of Watertown which is collaborating with JCC for the project. He said he is excited to see how the project brings the downtown area to life.

“I think it’s going to be an excellent restoration project for the lower end of Franklin Street,” Schweitzer said. “We’ll start to see some more activity and some more businesses come into the area. We certainly think that it’s going to be a unique space and we anticipate a lot of activity going on around it. I really think that this is going to be a gem in the community when we’re finished up.

Those who attended were also able to provide their input on what the building should be referred to as once it’s completed. The JCC team crafted four different concepts for the public to vote on.

The first concept was titled “Franklin 132” which was a connection to the history of the building and its location. Another option was the acronym “NEXT” which stands for Neighbors, Entrpeanuers, Study, Teach.

The “Strand Exchange” was the third option, and referenced the historic strand theatre on Franklin Street. The last concept was “JET Center” which stands for Jefferson Entrpeanuer Training Center. The voting can be accessed through the QR code on the sign and will close on May 30.

The project is expected to be completed by the fall of 2023. More information about the project can be found on the JCC website.