Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Changing of the Guard at Framingham Downtown Renaissance

It's not as if we didn't have sufficient notice.

Holli Andrews, former executive director of the Framingham Downtown Renaissance (FDR), who guided the non-profit organization dedicated to revitalizing downtown for the past five years, did announce a full year in advance of when she would be leaving her position.

But as the months ticked by I was still saddened that we were going to lose such a dynamic and effective spokesperson for downtown. In my heart, though, I was glad we were able to keep her for five years, a time span that has seen a dramatic improvement in the vitality of downtown. What has changed during that time?


Jack's Abby Craft Lagers, with its cavernous beer hall adjoining its large production brewery, and its next-door barrel-aged ale subsidiary, Springdale Barrel Room, invested millions of dollars in a former Dennison Manufacturing Company building, bringing dozens of jobs and hundreds of visitors downtown from not just the Boston area but around the country and beyond. And another craft brewer, Exhibit 'A' Brewing, opened in the former Jack's Abby space on Morton Street. There's even a weekly visit to downtown's breweries from Boston beer tourists on the Mass Brew Bus.

The historic train station was refurbished and turned into the Deluxe Depot Diner, a popular restaurant and night spot. Millions of dollars were also invested in improving downtown's streetscape, and transit-oriented development zoning changes have opened up the area to new residential projects, with two major apartment complexes being planned. Other restaurants and small businesses have opened, bringing an even more diverse array of products and services.

Andrews' tenure at FDR ended this month, and she is being ably succeeded as executive director by Courtney Thraen, who joined the organization last fall as Program Coordinator. Thraen brings a wide variety of experience and education to the position, including graduate degrees in both public policy and city planning, and stints in academia, government, digital media consulting, and as an officer in the U.S. Navy.

Thraen's coming out party of sorts was last Friday night, as she led FDR's Shamrock Stroll, a St. Patrick's Day pub crawl that visited six downtown establishments, beginning at Exhibit A Brewing, then Springdale Barrel Room, Taqueria Mexico, Deluxe Depot Diner, Tropical Cafe, and ending the evening at Danny Sullivan's (formerly The Tavern). This type of event started last December with a similar holiday stroll, with dozens of people gathering at each stop for drinks, noshing on food, greeting old friends and making new ones. As a veteran of both strolls I have to say it's the most fun I've had downtown in my eighteen years of living in Framingham.

A huge thank you to Holli Andrews for everything she did for downtown Framingham, and a hearty welcome to Courtney Thraen!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Framingham Author Releases New Novel

Erica Ferencik, a Nobscot resident, has a long-established reputation as a writer, having authored both a biography and a screenplay, and previously self-published two successful novels, Cracks in the Foundation, and Repeaters (which has been optioned to become a feature film by a Hollywood production company).

But with her latest novel, The River At Night, which was released this month by Gallery/Scout Press, a literary imprint of New York's Simon and Schuster publishing empire, she has hit the big time. The River At Night has been described as a female version of Deliverance - four middle-aged women go on a white-water rafting trip in the wilds of Maine, and it soon becomes a battle for survival when the vacation goes terribly wrong.

It is both a page-turner of a thriller and a work of poetic beauty, as she describes both the primal allure and the harrowing dangers of being on a remote river deep in the Maine woods, where both nature and some off the grid locals are conspiring to bring the trip to a tragic ending.

Last night at Barnes & Noble at Shoppers World on Route 9, Ferencik gave a talk about the book to a large and appreciative crowd, a literary homecoming of sorts to the town where she has lived for two decades. She described her own experiences white water rafting in Maine, and the week-long road trip she took there alone to meet and interview people who choose to live off the grid and off the land, deep in the woods and far from any neighbors.

The River At Night is receiving wide praise, from Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Entertainment Weekly, to The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia. You can buy it online at Amazon, or better yet, head down down to Barnes & Noble and pick up one of the copies Ferencik signed last night, while they last.

But despite this latest triumph, Ferencik is not resting on her laurels for very long. She is under contract to write another novel for her publisher, and will be traveling to the Amazon rain forest in Peru later this year to research that book, which she described as another tale of survival in a forbidding environment.

But for now, you can satisfy your desire for armchair suspense and adventure with The River At Night.