When Arnette, Muldrow & Associates presented the City with its Downtown Milford Master Plan, Ben Muldrow told citizens and city leaders that the company would provide them with a strategy board that would outline which suggestions developed by the company the City should proceed with initially. On Monday, February 22, in a workshop with city leaders, business owners and residents, Mr. Muldrow presented the strategy board with suggestions broken into three parts.
“Our goal here is to create an inspired vision for downtown,” Mr. Muldrow said. “To do this, we need to achieve three separate things in order to bring people downtown. We need to engage the river, make Milford a destination location and enhance the connections that exist currently.” Mr. Muldrow said that Milford already had a lot going for it with a strong downtown organization, an active Chamber of Commerce and many people who were working diligently to improve the downtown area.
Mr. Muldrow called the changes in downtown Milford “holistic” changes and stressed that there were no magic bullets to make downtown better. The Riverwalk is a fantastic amenity for the city, but there has been very little private investment in it, Mr. Muldrow said. He pointed out that until Arena’s opened in town, there was no real riverfront dining.
One of the ways that the City could engage the river initially, according to Mr. Muldrow, was to create Vineyard Village, a micro-retail outlet that would be located in the North Washington Street parking lot across from Park Place and the Milford Skating Rink. The micro-retail facilities were designed to take up only four parking spaces in the lot and Mr. Muldrow said that they had a soft commitment from the state that if Milford purchased one of the units, the state would buy two more. Some of those in attendance were concerned that Vineyard Village would add to an already difficult parking situation downtown.
“The problem with parking in Milford is a perception problem because Milford is not yet a destination,” Mr. Muldrow said. “In Rehoboth or Lewes, people will park and walk several blocks to get to their destination because they have other reasons to be there. In Milford, they are just running in to Sugar Bee for candy or grabbing a latte at Dolce. If there is no parking right out front, they go elsewhere. In our analysis, we found that Milford does have ample parking, but it requires people to walk. Right now, with very little reason to walk downtown, people simply don’t look for parking.” Mr. Muldrow suggested better signage for parking off of Southwest Front Street and other areas of town that would encourage people to park and walk.
Mayor Bryan Shupe said that the City knew that, as it grows, they will need to address parking and that Arnette, Muldrow & Associates had identified areas where that could happen. Mr. Muldrow also said that the parking lot on North Washington Street could be refigured so that the micro-retail outlets did not significantly reduce parking. Mayor Shupe also suggested signs in parking areas further from downtown that told visitors they were only 30 seconds from downtown, shopping or the Riverwalk.
Another suggestion made a continuation of the River Race event that began last year. Mr. Muldrow said that Milford Parks & Recreation had already agreed to hold the race again. He also suggested that there be an additional event planned that would capitalize on the river.
“DNREC is excited to help promote Milford as a gateway to the bayshore,” Mr. Mudlrow said. “The location of Milford on the Mispillion provides ample opportunities for the town to tap into eco-tourism and DNREC is ready to help do that. This means we need to shift the perception of Milford, which will not be a quick thing to do.”
Another goal highlighted on the strategy board was for downtown merchants to extend hours at least one night per month. He provided an example where a downtown area advertised First Friday, where merchants remained open later on the first Friday of each month. Over the next few years, the number of nights merchants remained open later could increase as business in the downtown area grew. The strategy board also indicated that the city should work to bring three new restaurants to the downtown area as another way to increase foot traffic downtown.
“There is entirely too much retail space being used for office space downtown,” Mr. Muldrow said. “This makes a difficult market dynamic because there are not enough places for people to walk and window shop. The city may want to investigate whether they could trade underperforming city property for downtown business locations to some of the offices located downtown, such as Davis, Bowen & Friedel. This would open up more retail space downtown while also helping an established business in Milford.”
Mr. Muldrow pointed out that adding a public restroom was critical in downtown, but suggested installing an ATM in the same building, using the ATM fees generated to pay for the maintenance of the restroom. He also suggested that a Community Development Corporation be created to oversee the suggestions presented on the strategy board in order to remove any political aspect of the plan.
“This plan initially focuses on the Walnut Street area and we plan to expand out from there over the next few years,” Mr. Muldrow said. “We will sit down again in a few months and see where we stand as we work to create an even better downtown Milford.”