It’s been in the works for years, but progress is being made toward making Maitland’s revitalized downtown a reality.
During the City Council’s July 24 meeting, the council approved a resolution to adopt the newly updated downtown revitalization master plan.
The update was brought up by a Request for Proposals & Qualification from the city in October 2015 and sought to add the Maitland Avenue Special District and the Cultural Corridor Special District to the existing plan. Before this new addition, the plan had not been updated in more than 12 years.
GAI Community Solutions Group was hired January 2016 to work on the update.
In the last 16 months, GAI met with residents, stakeholder groups, business and property owners, and citizen boards. During that time, the update has been through 25 different reviews and public hearings.
During the presentation of the new plan, Peter Sechler, senior director for GAI, said the group had identified specific inputs from the community that would help the city build the downtown it wants.
“There is a handful of key things — there is a desire for a real downtown that gives you a sense of place, a little bit of sense of urban activity; there are places to go; you can see friends, and maybe friends can see you,” Sechler said. “There is a sense that we don’t quite have that yet. It’s just a little too separated and just a little too car-oriented.”
The idea is to develop what Sechler called a “park-once environment,” in which residents can simply park their car and explore the downtown area on foot or bike. By setting up a downtown in that fashion, people will be more willing to visit other stores — boosting the economy, Sechler said.
The executive summary on the vision for the master plan included multiple categories — guiding principals, development frameworks, and action — while input was added on in this recent update.
After taking suggestions from the community, GAI focused on seven specific topics to help the city develop its downtown. Those included: a desire for a downtown; lack of clear identity; transportation challenges; city of arts and culture; no public anchor; livable connections to downtown; and scale of development.
“What is your identity?” Sechler said. “We got some input that we are not really sure what downtown is, and I think that kind of runs with that same theme of having some land uses, some businesses, some activities that are just kind of fractured and splayed apart. Certainly, a couple of the roadway situations don’t help that, because it is hard to cross 17-92 and so forth. We have a drive-through environment, and we are trying to create a drive-to environment.”
The issue of examining the roadways to help make the downtown better was the biggest concern among council members. Councilman Mike Thomas said finding a “sane way” to allow people to cross 17-92 is an absolute “must” as it relates to helping make the downtown area more pedestrian friendly.
“Define sane,” asked Mayor Dale McDonald jokingly during the meeting.
“I’ll put it this way, so I wouldn’t have a heart attack escorting my 9-year-old across 17-92, because right now, that’s not something you do lightly,” Thomas said.
Councilman John Lowndes followed up with questions on the plan not addressing transport between downtown and the SunRail station, stating the usual option people take is traveling down the always-busy Maitland Avenue.
“This doesn’t contemplate that, and that seems to me like an important thing,” Lowndes said. “It’s not just about getting to the trail from here to there. It’s important, because these folks don’t have an easy way to get there. … They just will get in their car and add to the traffic.”
Sechler said the group has been paying attention to Maitland Avenue and is leaving options open regarding traffic solutions. He also reminded the council that the plan was a concept and can be adapted.
Although the process as a whole is ongoing, the current plan is to develop the downtown in incremental steps as a means of creating a more naturally organic city.
“The Maitland community has taken a couple of runs at ‘can we just take it all down and build a downtown all at once,’ and it hasn’t really worked out,” Sechler said. “We really think the real game is going to be a deal at a time, a block at a time, and that is how you build a fabric of real cities and places that are authentic.”