MILAN DOWNTOWN REVITALIZATION PLAN
While participation in a downtown planning process typically focuses on business and property owners, every resident of Milan has a compelling interest in the heart of their city and had the opportunity to participate at some level.
Components of the public participation process include:
- Questionnaire. The planning process began with an opinion survey, which could be completed either online or submitted as a hard copy. The survey identified potential issues and goals, which stakeholder group meetings addressed more completely.
- Kick-off Presentation. An initial community kick-off event took place on September 28, 2010. This event included a public presentation that discussed the planning process and presented strategies that comparable communities have pursued to improve and market their downtown.
- Focus Group Discussions & Individual Interviews. Focus groups took place on September 28th and 29th, 2010, and provided a full day of discussions about the emerging issues and challenges facing Milan. Also, several individual interviews provided in-depth understanding of the community’s emerging issues.
- Design Studio. A design studio took place from October 25th to October 27th, 2010 to engage residents, business owners, and other stakeholders directly in conceptual planning for downtown, Pearl Street and the 3rd Street connection. Participants shared their ideas, issues and concerns informally with the design team, and helped define and test concepts for the future of the planning area.
- Plan Steering Committee. The Plan Steering Committee met at key points during the planning process to review the progress of the plan and make revisions to the draft concepts.
- Logo/Brand Sub-Committee. Participants of the Logo/Brand Sub-committee provided direction for the city’s new logo design.
- Open House. A public Open House occurred in March 2011. The open house provided the public an opportunity to review and comment on the development plan before further development and adoption.
The process began with an opinion survey, designed to gather perceptions about Downtown Milan. About 71 people completed the survey on-line or on paper. This section summarizes key results.
Downtown Features: A community questionnaire asked respondents to rank various features of downtown on a 5 (excellent) to 1 (poor) scale. Results are tabulated and reported by the frequency of responses. A significant proportion of the categories received an overall low ranking, except for sidewalk areas and public spaces, which had the most excellent rankings. Table 3.1 identifies the rating for each category with the highest response count. In general, the responses suggest that all areas should be a focus for the master plan.
In a follow-up question, the survey asked respondents to consider ideas and actions for improving downtown Milan, again ranking them on a “5” (greatest importance) to “1” (least importance) scale. High-ranking responses focused on strategies for economic development and improving the physical condition of the downtown. Categories with a high number of 4’s and 5’s include:
- Attracting new retail
- More events and activities
- Restoration of historic facades
- Improved landscaping and benches
- Better advertising and promotion.
Downtown Assets and Liabilities:
Assets. In the first of four open-ended questions, respondents were asked to list downtown Milan’s three greatest assets. Of 166 listed responses, the most frequently mentioned assets pertained to sidewalks, the courthouse, ease of moving through the district, and historic buildings. Other important assets to the downtown area are atmosphere and business variety. All responses are below.
20 Traffic circulation & accessibility 19 Historic structures
16 Ornamental lighting
13 Small town atmosphere
3 Community Center
2 Community Services (Museum, Fire)
1 View of vistas
1 Elks Lodge
Liabilities. Survey respondents listed the greatest liabilities as business variety and facades and building conditions. About 147 individual responses were received, with vacant and deteriorating buildings being the number one issue. Lack of business variety followed. Some of the liabilities can be matched up, such as deteriorating buildings, poor upkeep of businesses and vacant buildings – all are related to the maintenance and condition of the district’s structures. Responses are listed below.
46 Deteriorating Buildings
31 Lack of Business Variety
14 Poor upkeep of businesses
10 Vacant Buildings
7 No activities or attraction
5 Lack of Funding
4 Traffic Flow
3 Upper stories
3 Condition of Public Square
3 Streets need repair
1 Inconsistent business facades
1 Lack of long-term planning
1 Poor marketing/promotion
1 People shopping out of town
1 Poor reputation
1 Safety at night
1 Nothing that reflects culture/history
1 Stormwater drainage
New businesses. An open-ended question asked respondents to list new businesses that are most needed downtown. The questionnaire received 149 responses. Top answers include a restaurant and retailing. Responses also indicate a need for youth-oriented project. A complete list of consolidated responses follows.
16 General Store (variety store)
8 Fast Food
6 Antique Shop
6 Movie Theater
5 Grocery Store
4 Craft Store
2 Dry Cleaner
2 Pool Hall
1 Bowling Alley
1 Music store
1 Permanent local products store
1 Office Supply Store
1 Better Fitness center
1 Office space
1 community education classes, i.e., computers, Spanish
Respondents were asked to identify a project they would invest in if they had $500,000. Participants submitted approximately 100 ideas. Top responses include rehabilitating buildings around the square, improving gathering space, and developing a project that targets youth. A complete list follows:
36 Rehabilitate downtown (buildings)
8 Improve public gathering space
7 Youth oriented project
6 Theater in downtown
6 Retain and recruit businesses
4 Upgrade business signage
4 Improve community activities and establish new ones in downtown
4 Establish and market a theme
3 Public art (murals)
3 Improve side streets
3 Improve parking
3 Create small business loan
2 Upgrade library
2 New activities and entertainment
2 Improve bowling alley
2 Improve awnings
1 Improve courthouse
1 Bequeath results in a project that has a lasting influence.
1 Improve museum
1 Housing in upper-story units
1 Complete a downtown plan
Focus Group Discussions & Individual Interviews:
Focus group meetings and individual interviews took place on September 28th and 29th, resulting in about 10 hours of discussion. Groups such as business and property owners, public officials, civic and arts organizations, and others participated in roundtable discussions to share their opinion of the district and its future opportunities. The following summarizes the proceedings, ranked generally in order of attention.
ISSUE 1: Building Conditions:
- The building stock is an important asset. The commercial vernacular of the early 1900’s strengthens Milan’s historic roots, yet many of these buildings are vacant and deteriorating. Neglected buildings should be preserved, especially along 3rd Street.
- The plan should provide concepts for affordable financing that preserves the fabric of this district. Providing guidelines will assist building owners on techniques for improving their building.
- Awnings anchored to the sidewalk become obstructions to pedestrians and maintenance. Consideration should be given to a set of new low-maintenance awnings projecting from the building façade.
- Upper-stories are boarded or appear to be vacant. Lattice fencing in wells could be replaced with windows or features that replicate the appearance of a window.
- Building materials should be selected that contribute to the historic quality of the district.
- Business signage could be upgraded to improve the appearance and attract patrons to business.
- Buildings should be upgraded to be more energy efficient and structurally sound.
ISSUE 2: Business Development:
- Building owners cannot afford to rehabilitate their building and expect to recover their improvement costs through higher rents. Average rents in the area is perceived at about $4 a square foot. Rehabilitating the building would require doubling or tripling the rent, which businesses are cannot afford.
- Downtown has traditionally been an important part of the retail and service environment. Pearl Street has since emerged as another business corridor, yet remains disconnected from downtown and neighborhoods.
- Business plans should consider succession ownership. Transitioning ownership helps a downtown district sustain itself over decades. Poole’s Hardware has been operating since the early 1900s and has successfully transferred ownership within the family.
- The city is fortunate to have been bestowed $500,000 for improving downtown. The funds should be leveraged to initiate projects that stimulate a private market response – attracting people to downtown and encouraging building owners to reinvest into their buildings.
- New development should be consistent with the character of the older buildings in downtown. The first floor of buildings should have an active use, and not necessarily be office or vacant.
- Construction of the East Locust Creek Reservoir will attract jobs to the region. Once complete, the reservoir will become another recreational amenity for the region
- Businesses that have closed doors create a gap in services and storefront uses. Identifying uses and guiding potential development packages for vacant spaces will be an important priority in re-establishing downtown development and retail momentum.
- Uniform, predictable business hours. Patrons do not know when restaurants are open for lunch or dinner.
- People will often travel to Kirksville or Princeton to purchase their daily needs and groceries.
- Manufacturing jobs have substantial influence on Milan. The closing of ConAgra in 2002 led to the closing of other businesses in town, including McDonald’s and Pamida.
ISSUE 3: Connections, Circulation, and Parking:
- Participants perceive that parking around the square is competitive and inadequate.
- The development plan should consider improvements to increase supply, efficiency and accessibility.
- Corridors leading to the district are equally important for downtown development. Third Street, connecting downtown to Highway 5 and the Pearl Street Businesses, are critical corridors that present impressions to visitors.
- Sidewalks connecting to the school and surrounding neighborhoods should be upgraded.
- Improvements along 3rd Street should connect people to Pearl Street and the Depot.
ISSUE 4: Streetscape Environment:
- The ornamental light fixtures installed around the Courthouse enhance the historic character of the area.
- The entrances on 3rd Street could be enhanced to announce the arrival to downtown and subtly direct visitors to other community destinations. Enhancements could also be applied to Highways 5 and 6 as visitors approach Milan.
- Relatively inexpensive improvements can add color and customization to basic sidewalks helping to tell Milan’s story to visitors and residents alike.
- Sections of the streetscape have been repaired to improve drainage. While repairing these sections, the city discovered that the base layer of concrete was not reinforced. Streets should be upgraded.
- Streets need to be more attractive for pedestrians and passersby. Trees, benches, planters, banners, graphics, and art should be programmed into the streetscape design.
- Sculptures and murals should be displayed throughout the district, particularly at gathering places and major intersections.
- Gateway features along the highway and major intersections should be installed to direct motorists to destinations in Milan.
- Underground infrastructure is in good condition, having been replaced in the early 2000s.
ISSUE 5: Gathering space:
- Downtown is no l0nger considered a destination for families for evening activity, and cruising the square by students is not a popular activity.
- Children are often playing on the small courthouse lawn during the week. However, space is very limited.
- Main Street is closed off for the Old Timer’s Celebration, an annual event that attracts residents and alumni of Milan.
- The square acts as a track for people visiting downtown. One lap around the square is about 1200 feet. Five laps around the square calculates to a mile (5,280 feet in a mile).
- The bowling alley is one of the few gathering spaces in downtown.
- The volunteer theater closed because of the lack of volunteers and condition of the facility.
ISSUE 6: Marketing and Tourism:
- The region is known for its outdoor recreation (AT V trails at rock quarry) and sportsman activities (hunting for deer and turkey). Milan sees a lot of visitors who stay in Milan to hunt. The development of the East Locust Reservoir will attract fisherman and water recreationalists.
- Downtown should develop memories for growing children, visiting tourists, and residents. Theming or branding Milan’s downtown will help the community’s marketability. Residents and tourists should all be able to enjoy downtown. Community events should continue to be held in downtown.
- Planning should focus on developing an experience for families, couples, singles and teenagers that could include an assortment of restaurants, entertainment, theaters, events, and attractions.
- Milan should adopt a promotional campaign to attract visitors to the area. Graphics for the campaign should connect to relevant themes in the community, such has historical references and community events.
- For the past decade, the North Central Missouri Regional Water Commission has been pursuing the development of the East Reservoir, which will include a 2,200 acre lake to address water shortages. The total project will be on a 5,800 acre site that may become a significant regional attraction for Milan. Residents of Milan supported the project through the passing of a half-cent retail sales tax. Sullivan County is known for its hunting and fishing, attracting people beyond the state to spend money in the county. Undoubtedly, the development of the East Locust Creek Reservoir will strengthen the outdoor recreation market.
Potential community themes include:
- Native American heritage
- Landscape and natural resources
- Railroad connection
- Agriculture influences (livestock and grain)
- Outdoor recreation and sportsman
- Architecture and historic icons
- Wildcats and high school activities.
ISSUE 7: Community Pride & Relations:
- The condition and quality of the schools and parks have substantial influence on whether people will locate to Milan versus a surrounding community.
- “Milan needs motivation,” as described by one of the participants. The people need to be excited for its future.
- Milan voters have repeatedly denied bond issues to repair and upgrade the high school. Students are discouraged to stay or return to Milan. “If the Community doesn’t care about us, then why should we care about Milan?”
- Residents do not attend (support) high School sports events as they use to do.
- The condition of property and houses reflect the individual pride of people living in the City.
ISSUE 8: Housing:
- Milan has limited choices for rental housing.
- There is significant vacancy in their housing and available housing remains on the market for a long time.
- The city anticipates an immediate demand for housing with the construction of the East Locust Reservoir.
- Poor condition of housing and property make attracting quality staff difficult to work at local businesses and school district.
- The city, in association with other regional agencies, should pursue initiatives to improve Milan’s housing stock.
A multi-day public design studio took place in Milan from October 25 through October 27, 2010. The plan presented in Chapter Four reflects and refines the work done in these sessions. During the workshops, public discussion defined the following themes and principles:
- Streetscape Design. Milan’s sidewalks and streetlights were replaced prior to the development of this plan. Concepts focused on enhancing the public environment to compliment the surrounding development. Creating safe pedestrian movements is critical.
- Courthouse Accessibility and Civic Connections. Despite the Courthouse being in the center of the square, the building is perceived to be separated from the businesses surrounding it. The pedestrian traffic between City Hall and the Courthouse is unfriendly, requiring people to walk in the street or cut through private property. The Elks Lodge and Museum do not have a strong pedestrian connection.
- Landscaping. Downtown has very little public green space. The concept should maximize connections to greenspace.
- Alleys. The alleys behind the buildings fronting the square should be improved and more accessible for parking and walking.
- Redevelopment Sites. Downtown could host more commercial development or housing developments for seniors and professionals. The plan should present concepts to maximize the use of under-performing sites.
- Architectural Review. Architects evaluated the condition of individual buildings and documented recommendations for buildings. Planning participants would like to see historic structures be preserved and reused. Some buildings could become retail or office incubators.
- Parking Adequacy and Aesthetics. An adequate parking supply for courthouse employees, community center visitors, business operators, and patrons is necessary. Parking access should be convenient without having to venture significant grade changes.
- Neighborhood Connections. Pathways between downtown and neighborhoods should have logical connections, allowing people to walk from home to other places in the City. Many sidewalks are absent or obliterated, forcing children and other pedestrians to walk in the street.
- Trails and Greenways. A citywide trail system should be developed. Along that system should be a series of destinations that connect to Downtown Milan, neighborhoods, and parks.
Plan Steering Committee:
The steering committee met throughout the planning project to provide input, review the progress of the plan, suggest mid-course corrections, and contribute to development concepts. Participants in the committee are acknowledged at the front of this document and were instrumental in the preparation of the plan and establishing the priority projects for implementation.
On March 10, 2011, the City of Milan hosted an open house, which provided the public an opportunity to review and comment on the development plan before submitting the document to City Council for formal approval. The Open House included a presentation and display stations focusing on project areas.