Journal Register Company’s Ben Franklin Project leads to crowdsourced community revitalization

The Ben Franklin Project in Torrington, Connecticut, turned into an opportunity for residents to put down their own "Ben Franklin" - $100 - to be part of a crowdsourced effort to revitalize the downtown.

A big announcement is planned tomorrow in Journal Register Company newspaper town Torrington, Connecticut. After years of empty storefronts, absentee landlords and lack of progress on efforts to revitalize its struggling downtown, three local investors have stepped up to purchase a huge block of properties.

They plan to “crowdsource” the redevelopment of 27 retail storefronts, 70-plus office and apartment units and more than 110,000 total square feet of space in the heart of downtown.

The lead investor, Steven Temkin, got the idea from The Register Citizen‘s version of the Journal Register Company Ben Franklin Project. Our Ben Franklin edition on July 4, 2010, was focused entirely on downtown revitalization. We used crowdsourcing to report on the state of the downtown and possible solutions for the future. And we also highlighted the fact that Torrington is home to the nation’s first crowdsourced sports franchise. When out-of-state owners of the former Torrington Twisters NECBL team moved them to Massachusetts, the community rallied to buy memberships in a new team, which then has members vote on decisions such as what to name the team and who will coach it.

Steve, president of T&M Building, is an advertiser who has embraced our new “digital first” philosophy at JRC. He was the first in the company to attach his advertisements to our breaking news email alerts. And he was one of the first advertisers to try video ads on RegisterCitizen.Com.

Soon after our Ben Franklin edition, Steve visited my office and asked what I thought about using crowdsourcing to “save” and revitalize a key chunk of downtown properties that were in the process of foreclosure.

I wrote down some ideas for him, building upon the baseball team model, we reached out to some key community leaders, Steve found some like-minded investors, and less than three months later, they’ve closed on the sale and are offering $100 memberships to anyone who wants to own a piece of downtown and be part of this truly community revitalization effort. (I was one of the first to hand him a check.)

I’m still in awe that it’s really happening – and bowled over by the initial enthusiasm from a community that’s used to being pretty cynical and/or pessimistic.

The Ben Franklin Project was an amazing experiment that helped change the culture of Journal Register Company. Little did we know at the time that it would end up having an historic impact on our city as well.


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