After 14 transformative years, Franklinton leader Jim Sweeney leaves the West Side neighborhood a better place.

After 14 transformative years, Franklinton leader Jim Sweeney leaves the West Side neighborhood a better place.

The good news came with a caveat. When Jim Sweeney found out he was hired as the first executive director of the Franklinton Development Association, he also discovered something less pleasant about his new job. "I told him, 'Now you've got to find money to pay yourself,'" says Bruce Warner, a member of FDA's board.

That challenge, like so many others Sweeney faced in 14 years as the leader of Franklinton's federally designated community housing development organization, was met with enthusiasm and persistence. And today, thanks in large part to Sweeney's hard work, Franklinton is a neighborhood on the rise, with big-name developers scoping out land as the Downtown revival of the past decade ventures west across the Scioto River. "I can't remember how we stumbled upon Jim, but we did, and he took it and ran with it," says Warner, a longtime Franklinton activist.

On July 1, Sweeney stepped down as the leader of FDA, ending a tenure in which he helped spearhead a rebirth of Columbus' oldest neighborhood (and one of its poorest). Sweeney is quick to praise Franklinton's grassroots leaders, creative types and city officials-particularly former Mayor Mike Coleman-for that progress, but those who've worked with Sweeney say he deserves a lot of credit himself. "He's just a talented person," Warner says. "He's a visionary. He had ideas we thought were crazy, but they worked out."

The Columbus Idea Foundry, a linchpin of Franklinton's recent transformation, is one example. In 2014, the "makerspace"-a workshop-like environment in which artists, techies and entrepreneurs work, create and mingle-relocated from the Milo-Grogan neighborhood of Columbus to an old Franklinton warehouse at 421 W. State St. thanks to Sweeney getting $900,000 from the city to buy and rehabilitate the building and coaxing CEO Alex Bandar with a lease-to-own agreement. "He's an extraordinarily creative problem-solver and a freakin' hard-working guy with grit," Bandar says.

Sweeney's efforts to get the city and the FDA board to agree to the lease-purchase agreement assured Bandar that future redevelopment wouldn't eventually price his organization out of the neighborhood. "And the payments would go to the nonprofit, which in turn would put that back into the neighborhood," Bandar says.

The foundry's relocation further cemented Sweeney's efforts to brand Franklinton as an arts district while keeping true to its working-class roots. In 2004, Sweeney pitched his arts idea to Chris Sherman, who had moved to an old Franklinton factory to expand his construction business. They quickly became allies, and Sherman today manages 400 West Rich, a cavernous former manufacturing space that was rehabbed with artist studios, Strongwater Food & Spirits (where at least four drinks are named after Sweeney) and an event space run by Lance Robbins and his Los Angeles-based company Urban Smart Growth. The venue now has around 120 studios, and there's demand for more. "Jim has been a major cheerleader, a major force. He's done an amazing job," Sherman says

Sweeney says now is the right time to move on, and he predicts his FDA successor, Jack Storey, Sweeney's former assistant director, will accomplish big things. "I do believe a fresh perspective makes a lot of sense," Sweeney says.