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Downtown development plan draws public input

By Staff
Thomas Tingle
Record Managing Editor
What is your vision for downtown Madison?
Could downtown Madison be a place to both live and work in?
Those questions and more have been discussed by Madison residents and downtown Madison merchants for years and especially during the past few months when it was announced by the Madison City Council that a master plan to develop the downtown area is under way.
The city council has hired the Auburn University Center for Architecture and Urban Studies to create a master plan for the area. Part of the development of that plan includes input from the community at a town meeting.
The first of several town meetings to discuss the vision for downtown Madison was held Monday night at City Hall. There, downtown merchants and residents gathered to share their vision for the area.
At the present time, downtown Madison consists of a variety of businesses. They include an antique store, a museum, two restaurants, real estate offices, barber and beauty shops, a photographer, CPA's, and more.
Cheryl Morgan, professor and interim director of the school of architecture, is representing Auburn in the master plan development. Morgan said it is very important to hear from the community about their vision for the downtown area.
Several downtown merchants shared their views of the area – most of which includes keeping the quaint, small town charm that already exists.
Carol Rives, who is among the newest merchants in downtown Madison at the design firm of The Somerset Group, said one of the reasons she chose to locate in downtown Madison was due to its historic charm.
"We started renovating the building we are in May of 2002 and it took us about six months to get it to where it is today," Rives said. "Being a design firm, atmosphere is very important to us, so this building was congenial to our needs. We loved the historic character of downtown Madison and worked to achieve that perspective in our building."
Rives said she like to see a mixed variety of businesses and residential dwellings located in downtown.
"I'd like to see a variety of both retail and restaurants, but something that will keep with the historic charm of the area," Rives said.
Dennis and Joyce Vaughn have lived in the historic district of Madison on Front Street for 20 years. Joyce said any type of improvements to the downtown area is great as long as it's done in a manner to preserve what already exists.
"We are for progress in the downtown area, but I would like to see the historic nature of the downtown area preserved," Vaughn said. "We've lived in downtown Madison for 20 years and we enjoy being a part of the historic area."
Dennis Vaughn said he's encouraged to see the efforts under way by the city to bring in a professional group to help in the development of the downtown area.
"I'm very happy to see what already exists in downtown Madison, but more can be done," Vaughn said. "As long as it's kept in the proper balance and fits in with what is already there. A lot of hard work and effort by the downtown merchants and residents of the historic district has been done to preserve what we've got."
Sarah Whitworth, who has owned Whitworth Realty in downtown Madison since 1975, said she'd like to see more business activity in downtown.
"I'd like to see a nice card shop or perhaps a small gift shop – something that would be a drawing card for the downtown area," Whitworth said. "At one time, the post office used to be in downtown. It made people come to this area."
Whitworth said she like to see more businesses, rather than residential dwellings, created in the downtown area.
"We are fortunate to have what we've got in downtown Madison today, but I'd like to see more people on the streets and the kind of businesses that will bring people back here."
The Madison Chamber of Commerce located its headquarters in downtown Madison nearly two years ago. Its director, Sallie Wagner, said downtown Madison was the ideal location for the chamber.
"Downtown Madison is warm and friendly. I want to see that appeal kept," Wagner said. "We are a small chamber and fitting into the small downtown atmosphere was ideal for us."
Wagner said she envisions small boutiques, perhaps lofts, and small retail shops bustling in downtown Madison.
"Madison is a progressive city and downtown Madison can be just as progressive, but I'd like to keep the historic flair that keeps downtown Madison what it is today – a charming place to work and to do business in," Wagner said.
Four years ago, Cindy Sensenberger, owner of Main Street Caf in downtown Madison, along with her husband, purchased the Anderson-Jones home on Front Street and took a year to completely restore the home to its original beauty and charm from the 1897 era.
"We weren't originally looking to live in downtown Madison. We were looking for land and were going to build a house. However, we came across this house at auction and bought it," Sensenberger said. "Now that the renovations are done, I love living in downtown Madison."
Not only does Sensenberger live in downtown Madison, but she also has a business in downtown Madison as well. It took her more than four months to renovate the old Madison City Hall building on Main Street into a thriving caf. Sensenberger said she'd like to see more restaurants come to downtown Madison.
"Competition is great. We have a lovely downtown area and I'd like to see a variety of restaurants, perhaps some specialty stores like dress shops or art stores, come in," Sensenberger said. "Whatever plans are drawn, I would like to see the historical integrity of the downtown area maintained."
Robin Brewer said she loves the quaint nature of downtown Madison. Last February, Brewer purchased the Clay home on Main Street and took nearly four months to renovate the historic structure into the Clay House Museum.
The home sat vacant for nearly 10 years before Brewer came in with a list of renovations.
"Downtown Madison is a blend of unique businesses and homes. I'm glad to see that most of the buildings in downtown are filled, but I think more can be added, but in keeping with the quaint nature that exists," Brewer said. "I don't envision franchise-type businesses located here, but we need more 'foot traffic' coming in – a blend of eclectic-type businesses."
Morgan said at least one more town meeting would be planned during the development process of the master plan. Once the overall plan is created, it will be taken to the city council for its recognition as a master plan concept. Morgan said posters would be made to illustrate the plan.
"The posters will be only a suggestion and they can be used by the city to show that a plan is in place and 'here is our plan' when it comes to finding funds to do projects," Morgan said. "Getting the community's input is very important in the development process."

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