Business owners embrace Milford downtown program

Thursday, June 28, 2012
The old Jacobs Building has a new look at the corner of Highway 71 and 10th Street. The upgrades are part of a Milford Development Group effort to revitalize the appearance of some Milford buildings. (Photo submitted)

Milford merchants and residents longed for an improved look to their downtown business district. The Milford Development Group came up with a plan that was designed to assist those business owners.

United Community Bank and Milford Municipal Utilities became the financing entities for a downtown improvement project. Each entity agreed to donate $5,000 per month for five years; a total of $300,000 from each entity, to Milford Development. Bank Vice President Todd Johnson and Utilities General Manager Eric Stoll spearheaded the downtown revitalization initiative.

According to Johnson, the entire project is concentrated on the four square blocks that constitute the downtown core area.

The Jacobs Building before renovation.

"We felt that many of the buildings here in the downtown area are solid buildings that were in need of a facelift," Johnson said. "We planned for this to be a three- to five-year project."

Milford resident Mick Noteboom was recruited to form a design committee. Noteboom is a retired senior project manager/estimator in the construction industry. He asked Nolan Van Berkum, Carla Beckendorf and Kirby Walters to serve on the committee. All reside in Milford. Beckendorf is co-owner of an insurance office, Walters a real estate agent and Van Berkum is with Diamond Concrete of Spirit Lake.

"Nolan (Van Berkum) drafts the designs," Noteboom explained. "I draw up the cost estimates and go to the building owners with the proposed design and cost for their building."

Mick Noteboom, design committee chair for the Milford Economic Development downtown renovation project, checks over supply lists as he puts together estimates on the various buildings included in the project to improve the community's downtown business district. (Photo by Doris Welle)

Johnson said the renovation cost is vital to the success of the plan. The cost for each project is reviewed with the building owner and Milford Development.

"The owner receives a no-interest forgivable loan from Milford Development for a portion of the renovation cost," Johnson said. "The loan amount is determined on a project-by-project basis. As a condition, they must retain ownership of the property for five years. At the end of the five years, the loan will be forgiven and they will not be responsible for reimbursing any of the cost. If they sell the building during the five years following the renovation, they will be responsible for repaying a pro-rated portion of the loan."

The first building was renovated over the winter months. Known by locals as the Jacobs Building, it stands on the corner of Highway 71 (a.k.a. Okoboji Ave.) and 10th Street. Owner Rod Simonson, of Simonson Properties Inc., is thrilled with the results.

"We felt doing the Jacobs Building was important. It is the cornerstone of the downtown area and needed a facelift," he said.

Simonson credited Milford Utilities and United Community Bank for making the initiative possible.

"It would not have happened without the grant money; without their help," Simonson said. "We need to revitalize downtown Milford and now it is being done."

The two buildings north of Arnold Motor Supply were finished last week. Noteboom is excited about the speed with which each project is coming to fruition.

"We plan to start on the True Value Hardware Store by the second week in July," he predicted. "I ordered materials this morning."

Noteboom said that Bill Smith at Smith Stoneworks has donated a supply of bricks to Milford Economic Development for the downtown project.

"He had made a decision to sell stones only, so he gave us his bricks. We plan to use some of them on the True Value project."

The drawings are finished and the cost estimates are nearly complete for the renovations on the building that houses JoWaCo Depot and John's Tire Service, according to Noteboom. That building is owned by Jerry Daugherty.

"I am excited about the program," he said. "I haven't seen the final cost figures yet, so I don't know how much it is going to cost me, but I am excited."

The contractors involved thus far in the downtown revitalization project are Cornerstone Construction of Milford, Denison Dry Wall, Northwest Glass Co. Inc., Bob Glover Masonry of Milford and Milford Electric.

Several buildings are scheduled for Van Berkum's drafting board, including Walters Real Estate, the Scoreboard and others.

"By the end of next year, we should be pretty well done," Noteboom said. "As soon as JoWaCo and Walters are finished, everything north of the stoplight will be done."

At last week's Milford City Council meeting, the council voted to purchase the old Gressley Building immediately south of True Value Hardware. The building will be torn down and a walkway made to a new city parking lot on the former Smith Lumber property.

The businesses and people in Milford have made the commitment of time, expertise and money to revitalize their downtown area and those efforts are making a major difference, one building at a time.

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