MILTON – The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation has listed the Milton Historic District on its Eleven Most Endangered Historic Sites for the fourth consecutive year.
The Milton Historic District's repeated presence on the list “was based on the continued threat, the site’s significance to the local community and to the State of Florida, and the amount of local support remaining for the site’s preservation,” as stated in the official announcement made by the Florida Trust.
The announcement was made this morning at the opening session of the State Preservation Conference in St. Augustine, Fla. The nomination to Florida's 11 Most Endangered Sites was prepared and submitted by Main Street Milton, the non-profit booster group for downtown Milton.
“2013 will be a crucial year for downtown,” says Ryan Arvay, Main Street Milton program manager. “This year the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) will make their final decision as to how they will handle the traffic issues on Highway 90, and that is why we’re grateful the Florida Trust has continued to validate and focus attention on the threat to our downtown. After decades of discussing the issue it all comes down to this year.”
The major threat to the Milton Historic District has always been the on-going negative proposals by the FDOT to increase capacity on U.S. 90 through downtown Milton and the absence of a viable alternative in their long-range transportation plan. Over the past decade, the FDOT has recommended everything from four-laning the highway to creating new one-way pairs as a means to move more traffic through downtown. These plans cannot be executed without the demolition of some of the district's oldest and most significant buildings - which has been deemed by the community as harmful to economic development, quality of life, and historic preservation. (Click here to see Attachment A)
In March 2011, at a public meeting for U.S. 90 improvements, the FDOT presented a map proposing a new one-way road right through the heart of the historic district. (Click here to see Attachment B)
A growing majority of urban planners now view one-way pairs as frustrating to motorists, confusing to visitors, and bad for business. For example, Pensacola has in recent years re-opened Palafox to two-way traffic after years as a one-way street.
This year, FDOT will conduct a PD&E study (Project Development & Environmental study) of Highway 90, which looks closely at a number of factors surrounding any given transportation project. Included in the study will be the a southern-alternate route - long favored by Main Street Milton and the community as the best way to protect the historic district (see below). The study will also consider four-laning and one-way pairs.
“Four-laning will definitely be on the table, says Arvay, “and as long as it’s a possibility it remains a very real threat. Every year that we’ve been on the 11 Most Endangered list the FDOT has denied such plans, and yet there it is - the FDOT is still considering it.”
“The greatest hope for our beloved, little city is the charming, historic downtown overlooking the Blackwater River. Both four-laning and one-way pairs would alter Milton's historic character, be grossly out of scale, and increase heavy traffic, deterring bicyclists and pedestrians,” said Arvay. “The survival of small downtowns depend upon walkability and design that accommodates people...not cars. We want a pedestrian-friendly downtown that encourages visitors to slow down and stop; walk around while enjoying dining and shopping opportunities. This has been the model of so many other Florida towns.” Arvay points to Mt. Dora, FL. “The people of Mt. Dora faced a similar problem years ago, but they chose to spare the downtown. Now it’s a thriving arts district with tourists and locals shopping and dining. They have a first-class historic hotel. People live and work downtown again, and their historic buildings were the key to that.”
"For years the ambiguity surrounding the Highway 90 question has created uncertainty about downtown," Arvay says, "which in turn has stunted investment and economic growth in the district.”
Main Street Milton is also asking that local government work with the preservation community to protect these valuable historic assets, become more engaged by taking a stronger position to defend the district, and to work with FDOT to reach an acceptable solution that will protect downtown.
Visit www.MainStreetMilton.org for additional details and proposed solutions.