With bypass pending, Milton plans changes to eastside downtown
IF YOU GO
What: Milton City Council meeting
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Council chambers, 430 E. High St., Milton.
Topics: Milton City Administrator Jerry Schuetz said the Goodrich Square steering committee plans to ask the council for approval to seek architectural work for renovations and a possible building addition to the Community House, the former train depot at 20 Parkview Drive in North Goodrich Park.
MILTON I say Destination. You say Milton. Destination! Milton! Destination! Milton!
It’s not a cheer that’s being shouted in the streets—at least not yet. But city officials and local stakeholders continue to work on plans to redevelop Goodrich Park and the Parkview Drive business district, the city’s eastside downtown.
And while plans seem to vary depending on whom you ask, officials say a few redevelopment projects in the downtown will be getting a look this year.
The urgency comes from the planned Highway 26 bypass, which is slated for completion in fall 2013. Officials have said the bypass will divert at least 75 percent of traffic that now funnels past Milton’s east side on South Janesville Street.
“I’m overly excited for the bypass to go through. Especially when it comes to getting rid of the truck traffic in town,” said Cori Olson.
Olson is the director of the Milton Historical Society. Her organization is housed in the Milton House, a ghostly white inn built in 1844 by the city’s founder, Joseph Goodrich.
Located at East Madison Avenue and South Janesville Street, the Milton House is one of the historic cornerstones of the city’s east side. It’s also ground zero for the city’s heaviest through traffic. When the big trucks rumble past, you can feel the old inn shake.
Olson’s glad the bypass will siphon the bulk of heavy traffic from downtown Milton, but she said she’s more excited about what could return to Milton once the traffic is gone.
As she combs through local history, Olson said she marvels at how Milton’s eastside downtown once bustled. The businesses crawled with students from the former Milton College. Goodrich Park, the centerpiece of the downtown, once echoed with shrieks of excitement from crowds at high school sporting events or at movies projected on sheets sewn together by residents. Summer pageants drew crowds big enough to shut down Janesville Street.
“Milton used to be more than a commuter’s drive-thru,” said Olson, “I’d like to see the east side become a center for the community again.”
Plans in the works
It won’t happen overnight, but a steering committee has been working for months to start to transform Milton’s eastside downtown, at least on paper.
The group—named the Goodrich Square steering committee after a conceptual plan formed last year—is in the midst of planning changes this year in Goodrich Park.
Milton City Administrator Jerry Schuetz said the steering committee Tuesday plans to ask the Milton City Council for approval to seek architectural work for renovations and a possible building addition to the Community House, the former train depot at 20 Parkview Drive in North Goodrich Park.
The committee is looking at alternate uses for the city-owned building and earlier this month toured the train depot in downtown Edgerton, which has been renovated to house the Edgerton Chamber of Commerce.
According to Goodrich Square committee members, plans for the Community House include a future home for the Milton Chamber of Commerce, an auxiliary historical museum or a bicycle and canoe rental station.
The building is now rented out for community events.
Schuetz said the committee initially planned to focus this year on redeveloping North Goodrich Park, but it’s decided to shift those efforts to the Community House because the building is a key part of the park.
Schuetz said it’s not clear how the project would be funded, but he said work at the Community House would be in addition to $375,000 in infrastructure work already identified in North Goodrich Park.
Meanwhile, Schuetz said the city is in negotiations with a property owner for public parking off Parkview Drive and is reviewing plans for new bike lanes along East Madison Avenue between Clear Lake Road and South Janesville Street.
It’s all part of a plan generally referred to as the Goodrich Square project.
Goodrich Square is a multi-phase, multimillion-dollar city plan that would meld upgrades to the north and south parts of Goodrich Park with street realignments and parking upgrades. Bike lanes and paths planned on Madison Avenue and along the future Highway 26 bypass would converge in the park, making downtown Milton a hub in a network of state bike trails.
More abstractly, the plan is intended to create a town square feel for residents and visitors, and is supposed to spur business development around Goodrich Park while drawing people to historical features in the downtown, such as the Milton House.
Amenities could include a children’s splash park, an amphitheatre and paved walkways.
“It’s probably what we’ve been missing,” said Bank of Milton President Dan Honold, who is a member of the Goodrich Square committee. “It needs identity, a reason for people coming in.”
It’s still unclear when or if any redevelopment projects in the city’s eastside downtown could get underway this year.
While plans were for the Goodrich Square project to be repaid through tax increment financing, Schuetz said immediate funding would have to come from $1.5 million in general purpose bonds that the city floated earlier this month for city projects.
The city already is knee-deep in plans to build a new, $2.6 million department of public works facility. Bids for the DPW project could be ready in June. Schuetz said he would recommend the city council establish a budget for that project this summer, which essentially would make it the city’s top spending priority.
That could leave Goodrich Square and a number of other projects—including an emerging plan for upgrades at the Milton Fire Department—to compete for leftover funding, Schuetz said.
“Obviously, the Goodrich Square steering committee has some objectives that they’d like to see met. Other interests are also going to have some say about what they want (to do) with that money,” Schuetz said. “Ultimately, it’s going to be up to the council to decide where they want to prioritize the money.”