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Friends, business leaders remember man who helped save Franklin Building

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Even when the project hit major snags, Douglas B. Schelleng urged other local economic development leaders to move forward with plans to restore the dilapidated Franklin Building on Public Square.

But Mr. Schelleng never got a chance to bask in the project’s success. On March 4, 2011, he was on his way to a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the newly refurbished building when he died in a two-vehicle crash on Route 12 in the town of Champion.

On Thursday morning, about 15 of his friends and local business leaders who worked on the $10 million project with him honored his efforts with a plaque that was put up in the lobby of the building, which now contains about 10 storefronts and 16 apartments upstairs.

“I think he would be really proud of this,” said his son, Edward D. “Ned” Schelleng, who attended the ceremony.

Donald W. Rutherford, CEO of the Watertown Local Development Corp., noted it took a little longer than a year to get the plaque up, but said they wanted to do it right.

His friends credited Mr. Schelleng’s leadership to steer the project through a series of missteps along the way, even when cost overruns and delays appeared to have doomed its progress.

Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham recalled how they learned later the day of the ribbon-cutting about Mr. Schelleng’s death “on what was supposed to be a happy occasion.”

“This plaque will be here for as long as the Franklin Building stands here,” Mr. Rutherford said.

Mr. Schelleng had been president of the WLDC’s board of directors and a program administrator in Jefferson County for Empire State Development. In 2008, he was promoted to a job at ESD in the Albany area and moved to be closer to his family in Vermont.

Calling him “a voice of reason,” Gary C. Beasley, executive director of Neighbors of Watertown Inc., recalled how Mr. Schelleng would sit back with a smile and encourage his colleagues to wait until the dust cleared. That’s what was needed for the project to proceed, Mr. Schelleng would say in urging plans to continue.

“I can hear him doing that and will always remember that,” he said.

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