By JOHN McBRYDE
Bari Beasley’s first day as CEO for the Heritage Foundation of Williamson was May 8, 2017, which happened to be the year the organization was celebrating its 50th anniversary. In the two years since, Beasley and her team have worked to continue the mission of the Heritage Foundation in preservation, education and events.
“I love the work that I’m doing,” she said. “I tell my team every day that we need to come in here and smile and be happy because our work is all about doing good for the community, and there’s a lot of joy in that.”
Franklin Home Page: It’s believed that the Heritage Foundation had its beginnings at a cocktail party, where members of the community came together and decided something needed to happen to ensure some of Franklin’s historic buildings and landmarks would be saved. Can you talk about the important of those beginnings?
Bari Beasley: I think the vision that those community leaders had in 1967 really shaped so much of what has happened in Williamson County. A group of leaders got together and said we need to save these historical buildings and properties. At that time preservation wasn’t even something that was well known or well liked, and so I feel like the really tough job was in the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s when not only were properties being saved and being put on the National Register by my predecessors and all the board members that came before my time, but also educating the community on why this is important.
FHP: It would be several years later before downtown Franklin became an attractive destination for tourists or even residents. What led to that change?
BB: Streetscape. It was through a partnership with the Downtown Franklin Association, the Heritage Foundation and the city of Franklin. There was a time when people didn’t really want to go to downtown Franklin, and a lot of the buildings were vacant. A lot of the beautiful architecture was covered up by trying to make it look more like a mall, which was popular at that time. When streetscape happened [in the late 1980s and early ’90s] — that’s the infrastructure, the beautification of downtown Franklin — it was this merging of all these critical groups in the city that came together and advocated and championed [for change]. That was a huge turning point for the city of Franklin. And it’s now a destination for so many people.
FHP: Main Street Festival is just days away, April 27-28. The Heritage Foundation also sponsors Pumpkinfest in October and Dickens of a Christmas in December. What kind of role do these major events play in the overall mission of the organization?
BB: The three festivals started 35-36 years ago to bring people downtown. Now, what I find fascinating about these festivals is we spend very minimal amounts of money on any kind of marketing or advertising, yet 100,000 people still come. With good weather, Main Street will bring 100,000-plus. Pumpkinfest will have about 75,000, and Dickens from 60,000 to 100,000. The crowds really come. I think there is great value in our cultural heritage, and I feel like our festivals really help build those traditions and help build that cultural heritage.
FHP: Along with the Franklin Theatre and the Downtown Franklin Association, the Heritage Foundation has a new division with the acquisition of the former O’More College of Design property in downtown Franklin. Now called Franklin Grove Estate & Gardens, what kind of impact will that transformation have on the community?
BB: Franklin Grove is going to be something like a mini-Cheekwood, with beautiful gardens, art collections, historical collections and event space. And Williamson Inc. will have its Idea Center in the Fleming-Farrah mansion. Technically, it’s like they’ll be a tenant in one of our buildings. But it’s a cooperative effort. We see value in this, too, and we want to partner and make it something Williamson Inc. can successfully do in our community. They will probably start their program toward the end of this year.
We have a timeline of what we want to accomplish. There are some critical next steps. … We’re kind of behind the scenes working every day on these next steps. Within the next couple of months, we’ll have a clear timeline of when it will open.
This will become a community asset, a campus that everybody in the community and our visitors will enjoy. I’m very proud that happened during my tenure. We ‘re going to work very hard to make sure it’s a gem for the city of Franklin.
FHP: What are the obstacles to preservation? Does Williamson County still have many structures or sites that need to be protected?
BB: I think there’s a balance between development and preservation, and we live in a community where there’s a lot of development. We are an organization that works with developers and we work in preservation, and we think there can be a great balance. I think sometimes the challenge just involves communication. I think it’s important that people know where we stand when we’re working on these projects. We want to find the solution that helps to make our community great and sometimes that’ s working with a developer.
A lot of what’s in the county and in Franklin is saved, and we’re thankful that there’s a historic overlay in downtown Franklin. That’s why a lot of our focus needs to be on advocacy and education. I’ve heard Rudy Jordan [Heritage Foundation CEO from 1978-86] and others say we could lose this, so we want to continue the momentum in what we’re doing. But there are still gems out there that have not been saved.