Milton sees light at end of Merchant Row plan
The owner of The Red Rooster, 613 W. Madison Ave., Milton, has seen plans come and go, excitement build and fizzle.
But now she feels like things are really happening.
“I think now we finally see that we’re finally over that hump, and we’re able to see some light, some fruit of our efforts,” she said.
The city adopted a new plan for Merchant Row in 2007, and in early 2008 it took a first step by buying The Squeeze Inn property at 105 Merchant Row.
City officials hope to attract a developer to create a mixed-use development on the property with commercial space on the ground floor and residential units above, Mayor Nate Bruce said.
Mixed-use developments are only part of the city’s plan to revitalize Merchant Row. The city hopes to turn Merchant Row into a destination that catches residents’ and travelers’ eyes as they drive down Highway 59.
“In all of this, the ultimate goal is improving the viability of the downtown commercial district,” City Administrator Todd Schmidt said.
The city’s latest plan has been a long time coming. Officials already were talking about improving Merchant Row when Schmidt arrived in Milton nearly five years ago.
Bill Albright, president of First Community Bank, 202 Merchant Row, said a group of business owners led efforts more than 10 years ago to put in new sidewalks and historic streetlights in front of stores.
Those business owners also participated in efforts that led to the creation of a Community Development Authority, a Tax Incremental Financing District in Merchant Row and the façade improvement program in the last five years. The façade program offers business owners matching grants to make their storefronts more attractive and reflective of the neighborhood’s history.
The new plan hopes to take the focus on history a step further by highlighting the neighborhood’s railroad past. Merchant Row was once the main destination for Milton Junction, so named for the intersection of two rail lines.
The development plan, created by planners at Vandewalle & Associates, would create a “railroad plaza” with railroad-themed features such as a downtown information kiosk, historic railcar and train-themed playground.
The plan also suggests the city take advantage of the “eat local” movement by attracting local food outposts such as a bakery, butcher shop or farmer’s market.
But one of the biggest needs on Merchant Row is better parking, Bruce and Schmidt said.
“The whole transportation network, the street narrows and it widens, and there’s kind of an odd parking lot,” Schmidt said. “It’s a messy transportation area.”
Reconstruction of the street and parking lot is part of phase two of the plan. Mixed-use buildings ideally would include underground parking, too, Schmidt said.
But the city still doesn’t know what the timing of the plan will be. Part of it depends on when opportunities present themselves, such as the chance to buy The Squeeze Inn property, Schmidt said.
The city of Milton in 2007 adopted a plan from Vandewalle & Associates for the improvement of Merchant Row. Highlights of the plan include:
-- Redevelop The Squeeze Inn property, 105 Merchant Row, into a mixed-use building with retail/office space on the ground level, residential units above and underground parking below.
-- Create a gateway, such as a kiosk or arch over the road, at the intersection of Merchant Row and Madison Avenue to welcome visitors.
-- Install crosswalks at the intersection of Madison Avenue and Merchant Row and the intersection of Madison Avenue and Front Street.
-- Install brick terraces, streetlights and trees on the south side of Madison Avenue between Front Street and Merchant Row.
-- Redevelop Railroad Park and the Milton Junction Hobbies building, 130 Front St., into two mixed-use buildings.
-- Reconstruct the road and parking lot on Merchant Row.
-- Provide a small park on the south end of Merchant Row.
-- Install a railroad plaza to connect the railroad depot to the rest of Merchant Row.
-- Relocate Kwik Trip, 603 W. Madison Ave., or redesign the building to blend into a downtown setting.
-- Acquire properties north of Madison Avenue by relocating industrial uses to Milton’s industrial park.
-- Find another location for the Milton Joint Fire Department and incorporate the site into a large residential project.
-- Install streetscape improvements along the north side of Madison Avenue.