Having invested heavily in the infrastructure of the downtown area last fall, Council continued its push to improve the appearance and appeal of the downtown area early this year by directing staff to develop a detailed streetscape and design plan for Millbrook’s downtown core. The objective of the plan is to establish a framework for the revitalization of the downtown area which will encourage the development of an appealing, consistent and functional character for the downtown area. Operating more like a carrot than a stick, the plan will allow the township to offer funding incentives to private property owners in the downtown area who wish to invest in the improvement of their facades if their plans adhere to the program. Improving the appeal of the commercial centre has been demonstrated to drive economic activity by reducing vacancy rates, increasing traffic and commercial activity
Committee members Consultants Stempski Kelly Associates, Downtown Revitalization and Heritage Committees, OMAFRA representative and Economic & Community Development Coordinator Brigid Ayotte have spent the past few months hashing out a vision for the area.
The consultants did not arrive with their own vision but sought local input from a variety of stakeholders through advisory sessions as well as a public meeting where the consultants garnered visual preferences through the presentation of a series of images participants were asked to rank. These preferences guided by the expertise of the consultants will form the basis of the final report which will outline tools to develop a coherent, attractive downtown core presenting a consistent character for the downtown area which will be presented next week to Council. They will present recommendations to improve the physical appearance and function of the area and offer tools that will help future development and improvements to be incorporated into future investments into the streetscape and building facades.
The plan is built on some basic design principles. First it will promote a pedestrian-friendly environment built on respect for all users. This means that vehicular and pedestrian pathways, significant views and building access points will remain unobstructed. It will also include suggestions regarding materials, colours and styles of decorative elements to be used in the area to portray a distinct and consistent image that reflects the character of the community. To enhance the aesthetic appeal, the plan will incorporate greenspace which has been shown to promote economic activity, slow traffic, encourage tourism and enhance a sense of community pride. In addition to acting as the core for economic activity in the area, the downtown space will also provide a prime public gathering place for civic activities.
From community consultations, the committee learned that participants prefer historic facades with artistic details with high quality finishes, stone and brick and warm building colours with rich earth accents tones in red and green. With roughly half of existing building stock considered historic to some degree, heritage architectural features are considered a prime component of the downtown atmosphere. While aesthetically appealing, the age and historical detailing of existing building stock makes façade renovations expensive.
Other assets of the town include its proximity to the Mill pond, recreational biking and walking trails, it is compact and walkable, and has extensive community support. Its location off the highway is a mixed blessing: because it is not a thoroughfare, visitors who come tend to spend time here. The challenge is getting traffic to divert from the highway.
Recognizing that building owners and retailers are not designers, plan provides an extensive checklist of things to consider in any building renovation and décor decision. Based on best practises as well as community input, it is a tool for owners and tenants or their own design professional to guide future investment in their buildings where there is a consistency in building materials and styles, colours, signage, lighting and tasteful seasonal décor. It will also guide public investment decisions and will encourage consideration of public/private interfaces such as the back of buildings, alleys and laneways, parking lots and utility spaces.
If the plan works as envisioned, property owners will embrace the vision outlined in this document and take steps towards making the downtown area a more attractive, desirable destination for visitors and residents while retaining its eclectic vibe of old meets new. KG