Frankfort, Indiana wants to move things forward
Historic buildings and vibrant parks add to this small city’s charm
Frankfort, Indiana is a city of about 16,600 in Clinton County, about 40 miles northwest of Indianapolis. It was originally settled in the early 1800s by brothers John, William, and Nicholas Pence who named the town after their great-grandparents’ home of Frankfurt am Main in Germany. In 1875, Frankfort was incorporated as a city, and at the turn of the 20th century, it became known as the “Gem City,” because of the brightness of its new electric lights which could be seen from miles away across the prairie.
Modern industry and historic architecture
Today, Frankfort is a lively and growing, family-oriented community with a diverse economic sector based on food processing and manufacturing. Three major food giants call the city home, including Frito-Lay, its largest employer; Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), a global leader in both human and animal nutrition; and Conagra Brands, which has its world-largest distribution center there, covering 1.6 million square feet. NHK Seating of America, Inc. manufactures high-quality automobile seats and safety units for Subaru of Indiana Automotive (SIA) in neighboring Lafayette, and other manufacturers in Frankfort produce kitchen cabinets, brick, lumber, and agricultural implements, among other items.
Frankfort’s Downtown Historical District is filled with many notable and restored buildings, including the Clinton County Courthouse at 50 North Jackson St., which was built between 1882 and 1884, and is listed on National Register of Historic Places. In 2016, the city promulgated its Downtown Revitalization Plan, a ten-year operating manifesto with a goal to upgrade infrastructure, attract entrepreneurs and new business expansions, create downtown housing, and recruit new shops, restaurants, and small businesses to the area.
In addition, two local organizations work with the city to keep downtown growing and vibrant. “We have a great relationship with the Clinton County Chamber of Commerce and Frankfort Main Street. Both very busy bringing businesses in and keeping them here,” says Mayor Judy Sheets. “They’re always thinking of new programs and things that we can do.”
Urban greenspaces throughout
Frankfort is also a city of parks. Its newest one, Prairie Creek Park, is a $10 million development located in the heart of downtown. A two-acre urban greenspace, the park serves as a catalyst for development in the downtown area, while also serving as an active green space to the newly constructed Nickel Plate Flats, an adjacent, private market-rate housing development. The park also features the Encompass Credit Union Event Center, a community event and meeting venue; the Farmers Bank Performance Center Stage, which hosts Movies in the Park, and the city’s Summer Concert Series; and a new playground with a play structures and a splash pad.
Another park in Frankfort is the 88-acre TPA Park, which houses a Petting Zoo and Indiana’s largest Aviary and is home to the city’s yearly Festival of Lights. “The Festival of Lights at TPA Park has over a million lights and hundreds of different displays that they add to every year,” says Kimberly Black, Frankfort’s Community Development & Outreach Director. “Some people walk, but nine out of ten people drive thru. It provides a large economic development tool for our businesses and our parks system. Our goal is after driving through, visitors will eat at a restaurant downtown or visit a local business, and then make it a yearly tradition.” The latest amenities at TPA Park are new pickleball and tennis courts and the recently completed $10 million Sapphire Bay Aquatic Park that includes three slides, a lazy river, and other water features.
Dorner Park in the city’s southeast has six new pickleball courts, a new dog park, daffodil fields, and is home to the Curt Day Horseshoe Courts named for Curt Day, one of the best horseshoe pitchers ever to play the game, having won the Indiana State Championship 18 times. “Baseball and Little League are also very important in Frankfort and Clinton County,” adds Mayor Sheets. “We have baseball diamonds at TPA Park and at three other parks that are used by different groups.”
Housing on the agenda
As is the case with many growing communities across the country, the need for new housing is constant. Black reports that ten new apartments recently came online downtown in a refurbished hotel that was originally built in the late 1800s. “We had a local investor who saw the need for apartments,” she says. “He put a lot of time, money, and energy into the Main Hotel on North Main St., and we’re really excited to showcase it and let people know that those apartments are now there.”
“It’s always something we’re working on,” says Sheets, “trying to bring new people in. It’s a big concern in Frankfort.” The mayor reports that new homes will soon be going up on the southeast side of the city. “We’re hoping for 125 or 130 homes over these next few years in the $300-400,000 range. And we’re also looking at different types of housing – single-family, duplexes, and apartments.”
In fact, Black reports that the city is working with a contractor to conduct a feasibility study to determine exactly what the next generation of home-owners wants. “Do they want single-family? Do they want multi-use? Do they want more apartments downtown? We’re trying to forecast the future and what Frankfort will need,” she states. Black also hopes to tap into neighboring Boone County’s LEAP Program, a 9,000-acre Innovation District centered around the City of Lebanon’s Tech Corridor that is designed to attract thousands of new workers over the next several years to the area’s innovative and emerging industries. “The new recruits may not work here, but if we have the housing and amenities they might live and play here,” she muses.
Educating its emerging workforce
Frankfort is also looking toward growing and educating its own workforce and already has several partners on board that are keen to connect with its residents of all ages. One of those partners is called The Crossing, an alternative educational institution who’s School of Business and Entrepreneurship empowers struggling high school students to become contributing members of the community through rigorous academics, job-training career pathways, and faith-based character education. “The Crossing is an amazing place,” says Sheets. “Some of the kids in our community would probably not have graduated from school had they not had the opportunity to go to Crossing. I’m a huge supporter of all it does.”
A major initiative in Frankfort is the proposed “Cradle to Career” Tech Center that many local partners, including the Clinton County Chamber of Commerce, the City of Frankfort, Bauer Family Resources, the United Way for Clinton County, Clinton County Government, Ivy Tech Community College, Frankfort Community Schools, the Clinton Prairie School Corporation, the Town of Rossville, Clinton Central Schools, and private investments from area industry, business, individuals ,and organizations, are attempting to create on the campus of Frankfort High School.
When completed, the Cradle to Career Tech Center would combine childcare and child education with a secondary technical education complex for all Clinton County students. Its Career Academy would provide courses in many areas of workforce development including: Construction, Welding, Nursing , Automotive, Manufacturing, Criminal Justice, Fire Rescue, Carpentry, Emergency Medical Services, Communication TV/Radio, Agriculture, Information Technology, Hospitality/Culinary Arts, Cosmetology, and other areas according to necessity and demand.
“It’s not shovel ready yet, but we’re working on it; we’re fundraising for it,” Sheets relates. “We’re trying to have our residents ready to work for our local companies because some don’t go on to college or a career school. This will give them an opportunity to find something that they would like to do locally because we want them to stay here. I think it’s going to be a great thing for our community.”
Moving ahead while keeping it real
Going forward, both city administrators have some agenda items that they wish to pursue over the next few years. Black says that she wants to help streamline the processes for new businesses wishing to set up shop in Frankfort. “Your small businesses are the backbone of your community,” she states. “But not everyone who opens a small business understands all the steps they need to go through to get their permitting and their certificate of occupancy. I want to make sure that we’re making it easy for them; making sure they know all the steps to get from A to B in order to open a brick and mortar business. So, my goal over the next couple of years is to be that friendly, welcoming community.”
A major item on the mayor’s to do list will be the 2024 annexation of land along State Road 28, heading west to the Interstate 65 interchange. “We are hoping that when we annex in towards Interstate 65, that it brings in more industry, maybe some subdivisions, some retail, some hotels,” she says. “Those are the types of things we are hoping for as we expand that way. So, in 2024, we’re going to annex; in 2025, we’re going to have to start offering all of our services to that area. The city sewer and water is going to be run out through the annex area. The county did pay for that to happen, but they will be using our water and our sewer. Most of the land out in that area is Clinton County; Frankfort just has a small strip there, but we’re hoping in years to come, Frankfort will become a part of all that.
“As we move forward in the downtown area, we’re looking at some sort of renovations in Veteran’s Park. Also, we’re in the works of applying for another federal highway grant to finish Maish Road, which is out on the east side of the city. We’ve done the first two phases and we’re applying for phase three, which would complete the project. That’s the area where we’re also getting ready to do a housing development. We have a new subdivision going in and we’re working with the developers on infrastructure. So, it’s pretty important for us to keep that going.
“Another thing that’s important to us, is paving. State Road 28, which runs east and west through the center of Frankfort, was completely renovated. We’ve been working with INDOT (Indiana Department of Transportation) for the last two years on that project, but we always need more roads paved. We’re a rural community, so we take advantage of the federal highway grants. My goal is to continue to go after these matching grants and continue paving in the city.”
One final big project for Frankfort will be the construction of a new Fire Station. The city recently completed a brand new, 28,000-sq.-ft., state-of-the-art Police Station, at a cost of $8.5 million. It contains secure interview rooms, a monitoring crime lab, an evidence processing room, a full gym, and other training facilities. The new Fire Station #4 will be one of the city’s first expansion projects for the new annexation area. “Some of our larger manufacturing facilities in that area have asked us to provide fire protection for them and the Fire Station will be our next large project. I’m hoping that we can get it accomplished in the next few years. Other than that, I want to maintain what we have in Frankfort and continue to make it a growing, vibrant community. Big things are on the horizon; we’re very busy here in Frankfort and we’re moving forward.”
AT A GLANCE
WHAT: A city of 16,600
WHERE: Located in Clinton County