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!