New course for Middletown’s downtown considered

Five Middletown Studies

Here are five studies being conducted in Middletown, and the focus of each:

  • Middletown Master Plan — Conducted by McBride Dale Clarion — an overarching plan for the entire city of Middletown that will tie together all the other related city plans. It will consider future land-use possibilities, identify key topics that should make up the city's "planning agenda," and evaluate priority development sites.
  • Community Visioning — Handled by Middletown Moving Forward Inc. and the Community Building Institute — will identify neighborhood and economic issues, create a vision statement that "clearly defines Middletown's desired future," and recommend solutions and strategies to achieve them.
  • Downtown Master Plan — A project of Downtown Middletown Inc. and a consultant to be named next week — unlike the Middletown Master Plan, this plan will focus on downtown and how it connects with other parts of the city. It will evaluate existing conditions, recommend a comprehensive streetscape design and preferred architectural styles for the downtown, suggest future land-use patterns, evaluate market demands for the downtown, offer information about prime sites for developments that development companies can use, and suggest funding strategies to achieve the plan's aims.
  • Housing Study — Handled by Danter Group — a comprehensive housing study for the entire city that City Manager Doug Adkins has said he hopes "will tell us what kind of housing we need in Middletown, to start balancing our housing stock and get our property values up." It will evaluate demand for housing in the city at various price points, evaluate housing trends and growth projections, and will give special consideration to studying housing in the downtown.
  • Bicycle/Pedestrian Plan — Will evaluate existing conditions, analyze where new bike/pedestrian connections should be made, prioritize the potential projects, and determine the types of paths that should be built, and what amenities the paths should have.

The people creating the five plans “are all working together — all these plans, and all these consultants,” says Mallory Greenham, executive director of Downtown Middletown Inc. “We’re not duplicating efforts, but it’s real easy to get confused (about why there are so many plans)…. They just happen to be happening at the same time.”

Source: City of Middletown and Journal-News research

What course should be charted for Middletown’s downtown? Should it be branded as an arts area? A historic downtown? Maybe both, but in different parts of the downtown? Or perhaps something else?

That will be a main focus of a downtown master plan that Downtown Middletown Inc. is poised to launch in coming weeks. The organization next week will announce which consulting firm it will hire to formulate the plan.

“There will be a lot of public feedback,” promises Downtown Middletown Inc. Executive Director Mallory Greenham.

A lot of feedback already has been collected through the “What If Middletown?” visioning process now underway, which is evaluating community sentiment for how the entire city should move forward, Greenham notes.

But the public input sought for the downtown master plan “will be much more specific, direct questions about downtown Middletown: Do you see it as a historic downtown? Do you see it as an arts-district downtown? Do you see it more urban? Do you not even care about the historic architecture?”

“Those are the things that we want to find out from the public,” Greenham said.

The plan will envision what the downtown’s street lights will look like: Modern? Historic? Artistic?

“That is going to come out through their research,” Greenham said. “If it comes out that we see ourselves as more of an arts district, then maybe they’re a little bit more artistic, and maybe more modern. If we really feel that the core of our essence here in downtown Middletown is that we are a historic district, then they might be more historically appropriate for the age.”

“The light poles are kind of how this all got started,” Greenham said. “We realized that there’s a lot of interest to put banners and decorations on our poles.”

But the current poles are deteriorating, and the materials they’re made from would cause a safety issue to retrofit them to hold banners and decorations, Greenham said.

“They’re going to do public meetings and surveys,” she said.

Her organization still is negotiating terms with the consultant, but the price tag is expected to be in the $40,000 range, with half the funding coming from city government and the rest from other community funding sources, Greenham said. The plan should be finished this fall.

Lots of information wanted

“I kind-of think a downtown master plan is almost a basic requirement for any downtown district that’s looking to have a rebirth in revitalization,” Greenham said. “In a way, it was almost kind of shocking that we didn’t have a plan for our downtown district.”

“Without a plan, you don’t know where you’re going, so it’s good to have that,” said Mayor Larry Mulligan Jr. “And anytime we have people coming together to participate in it, it’s great to get broader input, because it can’t just be a few people on city council or the planning department — it needs to be a broader effort.”

While Downtown Middletown Inc. is leading the plan, city government plans to implement it as a guiding document, Mulligan said. So before departments at city hall take action on street lights, signs or other matters downtown, they will look to its recommendations.

City Manager Doug Adkins recently announced the goal that by 2020 of seeing the downtown “at least 70 percent full, instead of the 70 percent empty it is now,” and expressed hope a new downtown plan can foster development.

Here's some other help the plan should provide for downtown, which has been experiencing a gradual renaissance in recent years, with numerous shops sprouting flags out front announcing they're "open":

*Suggestions for ways to improve signs that direct people to downtown locations;

  • A plan for what sidewalks, flower planters, garbage cans and benches should look like;
  • Ways to improve or better use downtown greenspace areas;
  • Examinations of improvements that can be made to all eight traffic gateways to downtown; and
  • A look at the possibilities for housing downtown.

The plan also is intended to spark downtown development at specific sites, such as the warehouse row between downtown and the riverfront, and places like the Studio Theater.

What we hope to walk away with is a handful of clearly identified projects that we don’t necessarily have the investors for,” Greenham said. The plan should include the top investment opportunities, with research and market studies behind them “to say this is a sound investment.”

“They’ll also go through basically from University all the way down to the riverfront to identify development opportunities,” Greenham said. “This is an example: They may look at the Studio Theater, address the needs to bring that building back (with redevelopment), maybe suggest what might be the best use for that space, tie a dollar amount to it, and also possibly suggest investors for that building.”

The plan also will offer input on whether some one-way streets should be converted back to two-way.

“The traffic people at cities usually want to get traffic in and out as smoothly as possible,” Greenham said. “Downtown districts in the urban core really want to slow people down a little bit.”

Two advantages of slowing traffic: Vehicles wouldn’t drive as quickly past businesses that are interested in selling them things, and pedestrians don’t like to cross streets where the vehicles are moving too quickly.

Consultants will examine whether the downtown should be broken into separate districts.

“There’s a couple of groups — not my organization — one wanted to name it I think arts central district, and there’s another that wants to name it a historic downtown canal district,” she said. “What we’re trying to determine from this plan are, ‘Do we even need to district? If we did district, what would be the proper names? Where would those boundaries be?’

“The people that were talking about districting only wanted to do a couple blocks, not addressing the entire downtown,” Greenham said. “It may be something that they come back and say, ‘No, don’t district,’ or ‘District.’ But that’s something we’re trying to gather.”

If you want to receive emails inviting your feedback as the plan is developed, you can sign up at

Why care about downtown’s future?

Mica Glaser, one of three owners of the Windamere Event Venue and Art Gallery, which opened in October at 2 S. Main St., hopes the plan will continue downtown improvements.

“My main hope is that everything that has been in the works comes under one umbrella so it’s a more cohesive plan, and it’s not a variety of people trying to do different things,” Glaser said. “Just so everybody has the clear vision of what can be done, and where it can go, because I think Middletown’s downtown has a lot of potential in it, and it just needs to be more focused, so people can see a bigger impact, and people can see things changing.

“I think if they see a lot of progress, then it will start changing their attitude on what can happen for the rest of the town,” said Glaser, whose reception facility already has 32 events booked into 2017.

She lives near Dayton and sees a lot of potential in the downtown.

“Otherwise, we wouldn’t have opened our business down here — so from the outside, we see a lot of great things in Middletown. Unfortunately, the people who live here all don’t have that same outlook,” Glaser said.

Glaser would love to see a hotel open in the downtown.

“I need hotel rooms. I will shout that from the top of my building,” she said. “I have a lot of weddings coming in that are 150-225 people, and even if they’re not out-of-town, they still don’t want to drive home that night, possibly, and the possibility of a downtown hotel would be great, because otherwise, all that business will be pushed up by the highway, and then these businesses down here don’t benefit from that.”

Roger Daniel, who owns the former Rogers Jewelers headquarters building at 1050 Central Ave. and created two retail spaces inside, including Flores Leather Works, which makes handcrafted leather products, is bullish on the area.

“I think the downtown’s come a long way in, say, the last three or four years,” Daniel said. “There’s a number of businesses that are expected to start up here in the next five to six months, and I think the downtown plan just might get people a little more excited about downtown.”

He hopes the plan will encourage residential development.

“In my opinion, that’s the thing that’s needed most downtown. You need people living downtown,” Daniel said. “Part of urban living is to walk out your door, walk down the street, get a coffee, maybe get an alcoholic beverage or window-shop, go to a bookstore.”

Why should non-downtown residents care?

Greenham says downtown improvements will not happen at the expense of other parts of town. In fact, an improved downtown can provide new tax revenues that help the city as a whole, she said.

“Downtown Middletown is the face of Middletown, whether they (critics of downtown development efforts) like it or not,” Greenham said. “Whether they think the East End is a better representation, when visitors or travelers want to find out who Middletown is, they come to downtown Middletown,” Greenham said. “They should all care — this is the living room of our community.”

Here’s why Middletown residents who don’t live downtown should care about the future of the city’s core, she says: “We have a giant district full of buildings that are vacant — they’re not contributing to property taxes, sales taxes, and they look bad on our community.

“We feel that if we can turn this around, make it a walkable, thriving urban-core environment, that only means more money to schools, increased property values and increased quality of life,” Greenham said.

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