Milo's Heritage BuildingOctober 06, 2012 - TRCThe Heritage Building in Milo is started, another step in recovering from the disastrous fire of September 14, 2008.The Heritage Building being built in downtown Milo has been a long time in the making and it is heartening to see it beginning at last. Being an “old person”, as my grandson likes to call me, gives me some history that I’d like to share.In 2007 a series of meetings facilitated by Sheila Grant were held whereby any and all Milo citizens with an interest in community development met to brainstorm and eventually to set long and short term goals and a few concept projects that would conceivably move Milo ahead. Of all the similar civic meetings in Milo, these were the best attended meetings of which I had been a part. Sheila also surveyed every business on Main Street for their input.Following is the list of goals (with the now irrelevant text indicated by strikethrough) and their status as of November 2007.………………………………....................................................................................................................................Potential Projects for Milo Downtown RevitalizationShort term – these projects, once landowners are on board, should not take huge amounts of time or money:~~~ Small park on old hardware store cement slab in river, currently owned by hydro company that is considering granting permission for such a project. This would need siding to prevent danger of falling into water, but could be potential site for gazebo, planters, benches and/or handicapped fishing access.Applied for a Maine Community Foundation Piscataquis County Fund grant of $7,500 for preliminary engineering costs in May 2007. That application was denied, but we were encouraged to apply again in January while providing more budget detail, proof that the owner would grant public access and strong narrative to demonstrate the public benefit of the project.~~~ Improved/additional river accessNo steps taken to date.~~~ Improvements to the corner of Main and Elm streets. MDOT had indicated a willingness to turn this land over to the town once the Elm Street project is complete. Improvements could include flowers, benches and/or a nicely landscaped “Town of Milo” sign.Awaiting MDOT turnover of the land to the town. I would then suggest exploring gateway grant funds.~~~ Make enhancements to waterfront portion of town. These could include landscaping, seating, signage, etc.No steps taken to date.~~~ Statue of town founder.I believe folks from the historical society were taking steps forward on this.~~~ Landscaping around the Bangor Hydro facility on Riverside Street.No steps taken to date, but Jane Jones did tell Sheila Grant that the company had not indicated any interest in partnering on any improvements to this site.~~~ Seating/landscaping on Annis lot (Doble Park) between Frog Hollow and the bridge.The Milo Garden Club currently plants flowers here, so they would need to be in favor of enlarging the project, as would the landowner.~~~ Remove overgrown trees from west channel of river in town by old excelsior mill.No steps taken to date.Long Term – projects requiring long-range planning with a completion date more than a year away and/or that require large amounts of funding. Many of these projects would require the purchase of property. Some might be better packaged together in an application for Community Development Block Grant funds for a full-fledged downtown revitalization project – engineering, construction, etc.~~~ Restoration or repair of old theater on Main Street.Discussion with owner Felix Garcia. He wants $30,000 to sell the property. After some urging, he agreed to allow a tour of the building with a town-hired engineer to get an estimate on necessary repairs. Funding was never secured by the town to hire the engineer. Once an estimate can be obtained, a non-profit willing to purchase the building could begin (with assistance from PCEDC and other interested organizations) to raise funds for purchase and repair.~~~A façade improvement program for downtown businesses. The town applies for a large pot of money, then awards mini-grants to business owners (who must match the grant funds) to do work to the exterior of their buildings.The grant program was researched and other towns who had similar programs were contacted to see how the slum and blight requirements are met. The town will need to decide very soon if they wish to participate, so that necessary paperwork can be filed by the January 4 deadline.~~~ Establish a public swimming area.No steps taken to date.~~~ Fix wetland from gazebo to railroad tracks. There is a small river walk there that could be built/improved upon.No steps taken to date.~~~ Create a park with things for children/teens to do – playground and/or BMX/skateboard facility, swimming pool, water slides, etc.No steps taken to date, but the Milo Police Chief (Mike Poulin) is interested in applying for funds to create the BMX facility.~~~Create long river walk, perhaps from town to Rhoda’s Bridge on outer Elm Street.No steps taken to date, but PCEDC has been researching river walks for another town and could make those findings available if Milo wishes to proceed.~~~ Restoration or repair of the excelsior mill.This building is privately owned and so any project would be contingent on many factors. Sheila Grant did contact Otis Elevator Company to see if any information is available about the elevator installed at the mill. There is supposedly an operating Otis elevator in the mill. The company would be happy to provide historic information if a model number can be given to them to help them track it down. Contact is Stephen.Showers@Otis.com. No other steps have been taken to date.~~~ Install old-fashioned streetlights, cobbled crosswalks and other old-time-village accents along Main Street.This would be better done as part of a full-scale CDBG Downtown Revitalization project. The town would first apply for $10,000 to plan/engineer the downtown and then for the larger $500,000 grant to implement the improvements.Concept Projects – these deal more with an event or idea and less with a physical location that needs work. ~~~ Create a Downtown Farmer’s Market.Farmer’s markets were researched and local producers contacted. It did not appear to be feasible at this time. The idea was set aside for the time being.~~~ Create an annual “Milo Days” celebration.~~~ Create a “Welcome Wagon” familiarization brochure about local services/hours of business, etc.………………………………................................................................................................................................One of the things that came from both the meetings and the business people surveys was the need for improvement in the appearance of downtown.An attractive downtown has more value than just looking good.Downtown is a telling reflection of community image (and community self-image), of community pride, of prosperity or lack of prosperity, and of the community’s level of investment - all of which are critical factors in business retention and recruitment efforts.Downtown can represent a significant portion of the community's tax base. If the district declines and property values drop, it places more of a tax burden on other parts of town including individual homeowners. The traditional commercial district is an ideal location for independent businesses, which in turn: Keeps profits in town with locally owned businessesSupports other local businesses and servicesSupports local families with family-owned businessesSupports local community projectsCan provide a stable economic foundation with direct ties to the communityDowntown provides an important civic forum, where members of the community can congregate. Special events and celebrations, such as our Black Fly Festival and Hometown Holidays, being held downtown reinforce Milo’s sense of community.Improvements to Veteran’s Memorial Park and other riverfront property were another item from the meetings and survey. Those improvements have been funded by another grant and significant improvements have been made.A façade grant was written, submitted and as best I know Milo was awarded the grant. Façade grants make available monies to match businesses investments in improvements to the façades of the buildings in the blighted area designated in the grant proposal. Not everyone was happy that some, but not all, Milo businesses could benefit from those grant monies. It wasn’t perfectly fair; however, most mature adults have come to realize somewhere along the way that nothing in this world is perfectly fair. At that point something for a resource was a whole lot better than the nothing Milo had to offer downtown business owners before the façade grant. It was the best anyone knew to do. It was the right thing to do at that point in time.Then - in September 2008 - a significant part of Milo’s downtown burned changing Milo forever. We have the choice of grieving changes or using changes to an advantage. Our choice needs to be to make change work for us every way we possibly can.Some of the burned buildings were part of the reason Milo’s downtown had qualified as being blighted and economically depressed and so eligible for façade improvement monies. Then many were gone, leaving little more than a safety hazard. The approach to downtown revitalization had to change too. More than one action will be needed to make downtown better. It’s an ongoing process - already in its fifth or sixth year. Economic development professionals, like Ken Woodbury, can provide valuable direction and technical assistance, but only local leadership and citizen efforts can accomplish long-term success by fostering community involvement and commitment to the revitalization effort.After the fire a meeting was held to explain the direction needed for continued improvement in downtown. Citizens were asked to contribute money that would become Milo’s match, a percentage necessary for a grant for which we could make an application. Contributed money/matching funds demonstrates community involvement and community support. Like some other people in Milo, Doug and I threw some money in the pot. We’ll never get a dollar back - that wasn’t the idea. Hopefully Milo will realize way more benefit than the dollars donated by everyone, but it’s up to all of us to gain that benefit for ourselves.Milo has support in many places. An elderly gentleman and former Milo resident sent a donation to our local website, TRCMaine, after the fire. The web team pretty much operates on the theory that a rising tide floats all ships higher. It seemed that the best place for that donation was in the pot with the rest of the matching funds and it was passed on for that purpose.Community support isn’t always the same. JSI, for example, had a different kind of community support when it began than has been given for the Heritage Building. Doug and I remember the wood work being done on Elm Street in Johndro’s garage/workshop. Herb Dunham did some of the metal work at his shop on Dean Road, and up on Stoddard Hill Doug was doing another part of the metal work. The business outgrew its space in Milo very quickly. At that point Howland offered the best opportunity and so JSI moved there. Eventually it outgrew that space and found the opportunity it required in Milo. Sometimes the supportive effort of private citizens, along with good business practices, are all that’s needed. Other times government must play a role, especially when private enterprise fails to fill the void and meet a need as has been the case with downtown Milo.If Milo citizens will allow it to be, Milo can be a stronger, more viable community. Staying the way we are will only result in our being left behind as other, more progressive communities use economic development tools to improve themselves and become more attractive to businesses already developing there or others looking for expansion. Smaller businesses provide fewer jobs but multiple small businesses provide more jobs. A vacant lot provided no jobs.My first thought about a bakery downtown was that it was a quaint idea and fit right in with the spirit of the ‘good old days‘. Then I came to recognize that a little bakery is probably how LaBree’s started. Today LaBree’s is a sizeable business, one of which would look real fine in our business/industrial park. Probably a bakery downtown won’t grow to be as big as LaBree’s or JSI, but I’d like it to grow in downtown Milo. Dover-Foxcroft can have their once-a-year Whoopie Pie Festival; Milo can be branded and so known for having a downtown filled with the aroma of fresh donuts every day.I will continue to support the building of the Heritage Building and other downtown revitalization work because I firmly believe, after five or more years of involvement in the process, I am supporting what is best for Milo. NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.