At the regular City Council meeting held on Monday, January 11, 2016, Ben Muldrow of Arnett, Muldrow & Associates, presented the Downtown Master Plan, which he called “Rivertown Rebirth,” to council members. The plan was developed in the fall of 2015 after the company met with more than 200 residents, multiple businesses and city leaders.
“Why do we want to invest in downtown?” Mr. Muldrow asked. “If we think about brands we know, we see that we make purchases based on our experiences with that brand. What we want to do is create brand equity in downtown Milford in order to encourage investment in the downtown area. In order to do that, we must have a plan going forward, a road map that shows us what is good to incentivize and what may not be in the best interest of the downtown area.”
One of the ways that Mr. Muldrow pointed out as a reason to have a strategic plan for downtown was that it may seem profitable to allow a national brand to locate in the downtown area. However, research indicates that although national chains do bring visitors, the downtown area would be better suited for smaller, unique shops with local character. The research done by Arnett, Muldrow & Associates also indicated that there were gaps in business types that could do well in the downtown area.
Retail leakage, which is when consumers in an area buy more than the stores in that local area sell, is occurring in several retail areas in Milford. Retail leakage indicates that consumers are traveling elsewhere to purchase merchandise. In Milford, clothing and other sub-categories of apparel, such as shoes, jewelry and accessories are leaking almost $12 million from the area and local residents are spending almost $13 million in restaurants outside of Milford.
“Milford is uniquely set up to become a food niche,” Mr. Muldrow said. “Unique restaurants in this town could bring more people into town to eat and, if we provide them with unique shopping options, they will stay around after dinner or arrive early enough to do some shopping.”
In the Downtown East area of the city, near the location of Bicentennial Park, Mr. Muldrow mentioned that there had been discussion of an amphitheater on the river. The research conducted indicated that an amphitheater in the area where the river bends would be a definite benefit to the city, but that the town should consider private sector investment for the project. He proposed a pedestrian bridge located adjacent to the amphitheater that would allow people to walk between the amphitheater and the park as well as architecture that engages the river, such as a restaurant with waterfront dining. The plan also suggests creating wider sidewalks in the Riverwalk Plaza and adding outdoor dining areas.
The Downtown Core area of the city would be the best location for a multi-floor, multi-use development with retail locations on the ground floor and either apartments or offices on the upper floors. Calling it “Riverplace on the Mispillion,” Mr. Muldrow said this would offer a high-end investment in Milford, adding retail space and capitalizing on the river. Mr. Muldrow said that this development would also deter some of the unwanted behavior that currently exists in Bicentennial Park as there would be increased foot traffic both day and night.
“Park Avenue, right now, is not an attractive area of the city, with overhead wires visible as you walk down the street,” Mr. Muldrow said. “It is not cost effective to bury those wires, but you can add strings of lights, creating a canopy of light that hides the wires and provides a unique ambiance.” Other suggestions included adding rolling glass doors to the skating rink to open it up and repurposing the Washington Street parking lot.
The suggestion for the parking lot was to create a mini-retail development called “Vineyard Village.” Arnett, Muldrow & Associates was able to identify modular retail bays that were as small as one or two parking spaces. These bays could be used as incubators for new businesses who were unable to afford rent in a downtown location. The bays had roll-up glass doors as well as single traditional doors in order to open the space up during good weather. The bays could be customized using materials that simulated the city’s shipbuilding heritage as well.
Another option presented by Mr. Muldrow was Art Town Square. He suggested a splash park in front of the Second Street Players. Children would be able to splash in the park during warm months and it could be converted to an ice skating center during the winter. Mr. Muldrow said that the park provided water play that did not require a lifeguard. Other suggestions for Walnut Street included repairing some of the structural problems with Lou’s Bootery and creating a mixed-use facility on the lot where Warren’s Furniture stood. The plan also called for creating small, retail spaces in the front of buildings currently used for office space, keeping the offices behind the retail locations and offering grants to businesses for façade upgrades, such as paint and awnings.
“I have spoken to the landlord of both the skating rink and the Davis, Bowen & Friedel buildings,” Mr. Muldrow said. “He was very interested in implementing some of these ideas. We created plans that used very affordable materials, so it is cost effective for the changes to be made.”
Joe Palermo and Mike Spillane, both citizens of Milford, said that they would love to see the splash park become a reality. Mr. Palermo said that he visited a splash park while visiting his son in Montgomery County and that it was a major attraction for children and families. Both men said that they felt the canopy of lights over Park Place and Vineyard Village would be fairly simple projects that could generate significant interest in Milford.
Mr. Muldrow said that there would be a Downtown Implementation Summit the week of February 1 and a strategized presentation would be presented to council on February 8. The city plans to create a Rivertown Rebirth Committee once the strategized presentation was released.