COMMENTARY: Milford awakening to a new era

I took a walk today. My walk started like it always does as I journeyed downtown to the Milford Riverfront and then along the river to Goat Island. I’ve made this a regular ritual for me in the last few years. I enjoy the solitude, the changing seasons, and the friendly people I see along my route.

Today, my mind started to wander and imagine — the wheels were a turning. I found my three-mile walk-about became an eight-mile journey, thinking about my time in Milford, and how so much has changed in my 35 years living here. I am grateful for the opportunity to grow up in such a dynamic and caring community.

Jim Purcell

So much has been accomplished, especially in the last 15 years with the redevelopment of the downtown area and riverfront. My family and I enjoy living within walking distance to the downtown area, and appreciate the art, culture and entertainment it has brought to the community. I frequent many of the businesses, activities and programs that take place in the downtown area.

As my walk continued from its normal three-mile route to a circuitous eight-mile romp along the streets and avenues of Milford, I began to think about the future, and amazing potential Milford has to grow while maintaining its true small-town heritage.

I walked by the Milford Memorial Hospital, which just recently moved to the new Sussex Campus along Route 1 in Southeast Milford and saw the empty parking lot and I began to think what’s next. I know that we have a new owner of the property, and there appears to be good plans in place to revitalize, repurpose and make the property a continued viable asset to the community, but my mind also thought it needs to be done with focus and purpose.

My walk brought me to another property, which has been shuttered and vacant way too long. The Milford Middle School has been closed nearly nine years now and continues to erode before our eyes. I have been encouraged by the community meetings, and talk about the future of the property. It was decided in 2018 by a citizens committee that this location will again house a school of some sort, which I think is a sound idea.

Throughout my journey along the streets I also saw vacant homes, homes in disrepair and many business locations that stand vacant. I saw open space opportunities, which could become housing, parks and even business locations.

As new development spurs up around the new hospital campus and along Route 1 and Route 113, we also need to refocus and recommit our attention to our downtown area and neighborhoods around the downtown. South Milford — including the old hospital, the middle school and adjacent Simpson Tract land need to be redeveloped and developed in a way that will keep Milford connected. Also, along the south end of town are annexation opportunities along Marshall Street South Walnut all the way down to Lincoln.

In many ways the redevelopment of properties, improvements to current housing stock and the development of new properties needs a collaborative approach involving the city of Milford, Milford School District, our corporate community and property owners. What Milford needs is an organization whose sole purpose is to steward, finance and manage the redevelopment and future development of Milford’s social, business and cultural future.

Similar to other organizations like the Wilmington Redevelopment Corporation, we need a focused public and private partnership to see this important work through. By forming a corporation or semi-public authority we can bring innovation, finances and opportunities together in and impactful and efficient way. This organization created by and supported by the city, school district, business and local leaders can forge ahead projects to bring economic opportunity, housing, social and cultural development to a community which needs this focus.

The organization can develop grant and loan programs for property and business owners. They could negotiate and support business relocation to the community. This group can attract arts, culture and entertainment to our downtown area. The organization would support its work through public and private investment as well as grants and corporate investment opportunities. An executive director and limited staff can work closely with a diverse board to create a strategic plan for redevelopment projects and future development opportunities.

We have come too far to rest on our laurels or become dormant. We need to awaken to the enormous potential facing our greater community. Only together, with shared sacrifice and collaboration can we move forward. We can’t afford to say that’s a city issue, or a district issue or business issue. We must move forward together and we must be innovative in our approach. Let’s imagine, let’s awaken, let’s have vision.

Jim Purcell, a resident of Milford, is a former candidate for the 18th Senatorial District seat.

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