By Mike Finney
@MikeOnMilfordPosted Sep. 23, 2015 @ 9:57 am
Milford looks prepared to stake its future growth on the pull of the Mispillion River, the waterway that snakes its way through the heart of town.
Ben Muldrow, a Milford resident who works with Arnett Muldrow & Associates, helped present the city-financed “Conceptual Vision Plan for Downtown Milford” at Abbotts Grill on Sept. 17.
The report culminated a three-day, $27,250 study by the South Carolina-based design and branding firm – $24,000 of which was covered by a grant from the Delaware Economic Development Office, and the $3,250 balance was picked up by the city.
The study’s goal was to provide the community and business leaders a vision of the future of downtown. For the firm, the Mispillion River plays a central role in that vision as a driver of new business into its downtown area in the future.
“The river is a valuable and powerful resource that the city of Milford should embrace,” Muldrow said. “It’s a large part of Milford’s history as a shipbuilding town and should also play a large role in its future.”
Mayor Bryan Shupe noted that Milford has promoted its riverfront in the past with projects such as the Riverwalk, a walking and bicycling trail that spans the length of the town, but said it’s about time the city delved even deeper into the waters’ potential to help the city update its image.
“Over the past week, between the city leaders, business owners, community organizations and residents, we have been imagining exactly how harnessing the power of our river will allow us to continue our success into future generations,” Shupe said.
“This vision, which was created by all of us here, celebrates the beauty of our natural resources, encourages the ingenuity of our people and encourages commitment and its importance of being placed on our quality of life.”
Among suggestions put forth at the nearly 90-minute “Conceptual Vision Plan for Downtown Milford” was building a large outdoor amphitheater for live music and performances on the eastern side of town just off the riverbank.
Muldrow and Associates also envisioned “Riverplace” at the core of downtown – across the river from Arena’s restaurant – which would be a privately-funded restaurant, retail and residential area in the heart of town.
The firm added that Milford should provide more attractions for children, suggesting a Splash Pad downtown, located between the entrance to the Riverfront Theater and Walnut Street. This would help entice families to the area, especially in summertime.
Giving small businesses a chance to succeed in the downtown area is also a priority, as Muldrow said that redesigning the layouts of businesses with updated snazzy storefronts would give those outfits a better chance at surviving.
Business owners could also draw back on the square footage they are renting, which would reduce operation space but rent as well. This would serve the dual function of allowing offices to open and operate on the backside of the property to make up the difference in rent for building owners. Muldrow added he would also like to see the businesses remain open later at night.
Arnett Muldrow & Associates also recommended targeting the creation of new businesses in categories that are currently drawing the most money away from the city as residents search elsewhere for them. These are: a hobby, toys and game store; three separate boutiques; and three separate full-service restaurants.
Most of their ideas, complete with artists’ renderings, were met with applause from the large crowd gathered at the unveiling.
“Some of the ideas that were presented were very interesting,” said Mark Redden, who is an architect from Milford. “Now I thought a couple of their ideas, such as the Splash Pad, were silly, but overall I thought they presented a very good plan for the future.”
Even Santa Claus wasn’t safe from the town’s future plans, with firm recommending that the Santa House downtown be converted into a police substation and visitor’s center in the offseason.
Milly Pederson is a Milford resident who is preparing to open her own business downtown this fall. She was excited about the prospects that were outlined for the area.
“It was uplifting, hopeful,” Pederson said. “I’m opening a business in November on South Walnut. We’ve been renovating a building for two years – our business will be selling fine carpets, fine arts and home furnishings.
“Actually, I’m going to be in a building that was a carpet and furniture store 120 years ago. I’m just really happy to see all of this happening.”
Arnett Muldrow & Associates focused on three things they want to see bolster the future of downtown Milford – Rivertown Rebirth, Art Town Alive and Hometown Milford Events. The company believes these concepts will help propel the community into the future.
For Ben Muldrow, the project has become personal. He came to Milford to work about five years ago and never left, moving his family up from South Carolina to the city.
“I think it was just the dynamic that it really felt like a community, but it was also a community that had a tremendous amount of untapped potential,” Muldrow said. “When the opportunity arose for me to move up here, I decided it was an adventure that was worth following.”
Arnett Muldrow & Associates will assemble its final plan over the next three to four weeks before handing it over to Ben Muldrow, who will have about two weeks to tweak it and present a one-page strategy board to the city.
An implementation summit would then be held at a later date to help the city begin to implement the changes. It has reserved $20,000 towards its implementation.
Then, every six months, the team would meet with the city and grade the progress of the plan.
“I want you to know that the City of Milford does support this and we want to see it move forward,” Shupe said. “It’s time that we do this for ourselves and for each other.”