On Thursday, September 17, Arnett Muldrow and Associates, along with Community Design Solutions and Mahan Rykiel & Associates, presented a Conceptual Vision Plan for Downtown Milford. Ben Muldrow presented the plan that was created after the three organizations met with community leaders, citizens and others to develop a strategic plan that would create a more vibrant downtown area.
“For this study, we defined a primary trade area with a 15 minute drive time from the intersection of Front Street and Walnut Street,” Mr. Muldrow explained. “In that area, we have a population of 12,234 with a median age of 39.3 years, approximately a year and a half older than the median age of the United States. There are 4,940 homes with a projected growth of 4.5 percent over the next four and a half years. This growth is far more than the national average and is the type of growth we need to focus on so that we can capture new monies and build the local economy.”
According to the report, Milford businesses in the area studied sell more than $965 million, but consumers in the area are spending just under $589 million. This means that Milford is already attracting people from outside the downtown area who are spending money. However, a review showed that, although the overall market gain was almost $377 million, just over $186 million was in car sales, $149 million in building supplies and $62 million in gasoline. Since these types of sales are not items that attract people to downtown areas, this means downtown Milford is actually losing about $20 million in sales because area residents are purchasing outside of the area and visitors are not coming downtown to spend money.
During community meetings, many citizens expressed that there was not enough parking downtown for them to shop. However, according to research conducted by the three companies, there is actually a significant amount of parking available for a downtown the size of Milford.
“The problem is that the consumer’s market motivation is not enough to park and walk,” Mr. Muldrow said. “Parking in the corner lot on North Washington Street and walking to downtown is roughly the same distance it takes to walk from the cat food aisle to the dish detergent aisle in Walmart. The problem is not lack of parking, but lack of retail to attract shoppers.”
A review of the types of retail that would do well in Milford included clothing, restaurants along with furniture and antiques. The recommendation was that three new retail clothing outlets be added as consumers need three or more businesses for comparisons shopping to feel as if they have confidence to buy. In addition, restaurants should be full-service restaurants and that an additional three would be the best number to bring more money into the downtown region. Since there are already furniture and antique shops downtown, Mr. Muldrow recommended that a review be conducted to be sure they are filling the niches and using their square footage in the best possible way.
One recommendation made based on citizen requests is repurposing the Santa House during the off season in order to create a small police substation so that there is a larger police presence downtown. Officers could use bicycles downtown when the weather is suitable. The building could also be used as a Visitor’s Center. In addition, Mr. Muldrow suggested a Citizen Mobile Enforcement program. This is a mobile application that would allow citizens to take photos with their smartphone of code violations, vandalism and other problems in order to report them to the City. By doing so, the person who makes the report remains in the feedback loop so they know when the issue has been resolved.
Mr. Muldrow said that the team was shocked at how photogenic Milford was, but that they were mostly struck by the river and its role in the community. The river not only flows through the center of town, it also changes dramatically as it goes. He said they were also very interested to learn about the history of the town, especially the Vinyard Shipyard. He then went into some of the recommendations made in order to improve the downtown area.
“We broke the downtown area up into three sections,” Mr. Muldrow said. “Downtown East is the area where the Riverwalk Shopping Center and Bicentennial Park sit. Downtown Core is the area where Walnut Street sits and Downtown West is where the old firehall is located.” Mr. Muldrow began by offering recommendations for Downtown East.
He talked about plans that have been circulating for years to create an amphitheater directly on the river as well as a waterfront restaurant that would be located directly next door. A small bridge could be constructed at the bend in the river, allowing the amphitheater to use the natural slope of the land on the bend. Another community that is currently planned, Riverwalk Village, will be a mixed-use property directly across from the amphitheater, offering shops and condominiums. To maintain the integrity of the surrounding community, more of an edge in the form of trees could be added as a buffer line.
“The Riverwalk Plaza could also use some renovations,” Mr. Muldrow explained. “We suggest widening the sidewalks and expanding dining options with outdoor seating, firepits and umbrellas. This would create an additional pedestrian node, connecting the Riverwalk with the shopping center to encourage more foot traffic.”
As for the Downtown Core, additional mixed-use properties were recommended. River Place Mixed Use and Centennial Park Mixed Use, both located across the river from Park Place and Arena’s on land currently owned by the city would allow restaurants with outdoor seating as well as retail shops on the river with office space or penthouse apartments on the top floors. On Park Avenue, rather than bury electrical wires that currently detract from the area, Mr. Muldrow suggested adding string lights that would create a canopy which would provide a different dynamic at night.
“In the parking lot across from Park Place, we are recommending something we’re calling the Vinyard Pop-up,” Mr. Muldrow said. “We envision small, portable buildings of between 300 and 400 square feet where a retailare could test the waters with their business plan. We are also recommending a Splash Pad be installed in front of the Riverfront Theater, which is the true center of downtown. Children can splash in the water during warm months, and it can be turned off to create additional open space for festivals. In the winter, it could be used as a temporary ice skating rink. With the location directly across from the Santa House, this could draw many people downtown both day and night.”
Other suggestions made were some façade changes for Mispillion Art League and the Milford Skating Center. Mr. Muldrow suggested glass garage doors for the skating rink that would allow people to see inside and which could be opened during the summer to bring attention to the activities in the building. Lou’s Bootery would also undergo some façade changes, keeping the first floor as retail, changing the entrance so that it faced Walnut Street and using the top two floors for offices or residential use.
Mr. Muldrow said that long-term plans for the Downtown West area focused on the annex currently used by the State of Delaware. The state has a five-year lease for the building which has a foundation that juts out to into the river.
“You want to preserve that foundation as you could never build a building like that today,” Mr. Muldrow said. “We would like to see it become a mixed-use development with the building reconfigured to make the parking lot more centralized.” Mr. Muldrow said that the old Carlisle Fire House was critical to the area, but that he and his team were unable to focus on its reuse during this phase of the plan.
Another suggestion made was turning Southwest Front Street into a two-way street and adding an archway where it met Walnut Street. Mr. Muldrow said that this would pay homage to the railroad era. In addition, the lot where Warren Furniture sat could become mixed-use retail and residential property. Other suggestions for the city were to provide grants for façade and awning changes in order to create a more cohesive look downtown.
Mr. Muldrow said that they would create a final report and present a one-page strategy board to the city. An implementation summit would be held to help the City begin to implement the changes. Every six months, the team would meet with the city and grade the progress of the plan, giving themselves an “A” for success, a “C” for making progress or an “F” for failure. The entire presentation is available for viewing on YouTube by clicking here.