When Middletown residents last year were asked what would make their city better, the top responses were improved streets, the reopening of community pools and a new restaurant in town.
But not just any restaurant. Residents wanted a Chick-fil-A.
As part of the What If Middletown visioning process, people filled out more than 2,500 survey cards. The Chick-fil-A response was a surprise because people were not asked what specific restaurant they wanted in Middletown, just what they would like in general, said Calista Smith, interim director of Middletown Moving Forward, one of the organizations sponsoring What If Middletown.
“It was unprompted,” Smith said. “It was ‘Chick-fil-A.’ So we said, ‘The road to happiness in Middletown was one, well-paved, had a Chick-fil-A on it, and led to the community pool.’”
Terrence Sherrer, the Middletown-area director for United Way of Greater Cincinnati, has a theory about the longing for that specific restaurant.
“It’s nothing but a theory,” Sherrer said. “Most times when you see a Chick-fil-A, it’s in a very vibrant area, very affluent, it has money around it, has other businesses around it, other great, high-standard restaurants.
“So to me, when people say they want a Chick-fil-A, it’s a way of saying they want that vibrant area that is worthy of a Chick-fil-A,” Sherrer said.
When you see a Chick-fil-A, he said, typically, “there’s going to be a Chipotle. There’s going to be a Starbucks. And you can almost add in there Panera Bread, just to equal it out.”
Interestingly, Middletown used to have a Chick-fil-A, inside Towne Mall.
What If Middletown is entering a new phase next week, following the creation of work teams that will distill the community input from public meetings, survey cards and other resident input. The work teams will cover six areas: Arts, Entertainment and Recreation; Jobs, Economy and Commerce; Education; Health, Wellness and Safety; Housing and Neighborhoods; and Transportation and Infrastructure.
During his State of the City speech last month, Mayor Larry Mulligan Jr. said What If Middletown can create a brighter future for Middletown through the goals it sets and the progress that follows.
But, he noted: “It is imperative that a city gather input from all areas and many different perspectives to drive the visioning process.”
With the six work teams — all of which will also place high priority on diversity and inclusion — “We’re about to enter the phase of setting some priorities, and understanding what resources and what things are already happening,” Smith said.
The work-team phase, which should conclude this summer, will help define “that big vision” for the city, as well as, “What’s the low-hanging fruit that can actually happen pretty quickly? What are some important things, but the resources to do it may not quite be there?” she said.
When the work teams finish their jobs, “the community can walk away with not only, ‘Here’s our pie in the sky,’ but ‘Here’s how we think we’re going to bake it,’ so to speak,” Smith said.
Among other things, top priorities include more jobs; more shops, restaurants and nightlife; an expanded riverfront with a water feature; more diversity in the schools and better teacher connections with the community; better city-government engagement with neighborhoods; a more productive workforce; a better reputation for Middletown; a cleaner city and downtown; more housing for diverse middle-class families; improved roads and sewers; improvements to the corridor between I-75 and downtown; and a second exit on I-75, possibly at Manchester Road.
People wanting to give their input and receive updates about the process can provide their email addresses at www.whatifmiddletown.org.
If major progress is to be made, Smith said, many people, from all parts of Middletown society, will embrace it and help achieve the vision, rather than counting on city government and corporations to do it all.
It’s going to be a leadership across all spheres of influence,” Smith said. “It’s going to be grass-roots and grass-tops.”