Open for interaction: The new face of downtown Midland

City residents and visitors have seen quite a change in the past few months in Downtown Midland, as the city aims to open up the area and surrounding streets for community, connection and commerce.

Midland’s new streetscape project officially opened on Saturday, November 18, just in time to welcome locals and visitors taking part in the city’s annual Santa Parade and as people venture out shopping for holiday gifts.

The project officially kicked off earlier this year and was completed in several phases, so disruptions to the surrounding business and consumer flow was as minimal as possible during the construction process. Some of the final additions to the streetscape project were the installation of new, modern street lights that enhance some of the improvements already made, such as reorienting parking spaces and removing the overhead traffic signals. Many of the investments increase safety and line of sight for all downtown visitors and modes of transportation.

Part of a much broader initiative that aims to make “Main Street” a thriving neighborhood space with better access for all, Midland joins many cities and towns across the globe that have prioritized investment in local downtown spaces in order to create a sense of belonging, safety and accessibility.

Downtown revitalization comes in many sizes, both large and small and it has been a notable effort for some time to return amenities, housing and a sense of community to our collective urban environment across the country.

The intent is that a safe, walkable, pedestrian and bicycle-friendly downtown environment will create more of the same activity, encouraging people to stop and enjoy the surrounding community. Local patrons, activities and spaces will lead to an increase in amenities, events and the desire to continue to foster a place where people spend their time connecting with others.

“We are very excited that the construction phase is now complete and can’t thank the downtown businesses and patrons enough for accommodating this project,” said Selina Tisdale, executive director of Midland’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA). “We have already had numerous requests for information regarding the new amenities as well as a high level of interest in downtown spaces and storefronts. We see 2018 shaping up to be an exciting year, with new programming and events as a result of these investments.”

While Midland’s new streetscape just officially opened, downtown investment is a trend that has been steadily increasing for some time.

Kelli Mason, the owner of Lux The Salon in Midland opened her original space in June 2013, but as the salon grew, Mason knew that she needed to make the best use of the location, eventually expanding to take over a neighboring unit. Seeing the additional development of office space, restaurants and other businesses located in the East End Development and having witnessed the success of The H Hotel and other downtown resources take off a few years earlier, Mason wanted to remain a part of the downtown community for years to come.

“When I decided to make the investment of opening a salon, the downtown area was the only location I wanted to be,” said Kelli Mason, owner of Lux The Salon on Ashman Street. “It was important the salon was in a place where we could be a part of a larger community.”

“We completed the expansion in early 2016 because even though it had only been two years since we opened, it felt like the right time to meet the demands of our expanding client base,” said Mason. “Not only that, but the downtown community was really starting to turn into an area for growth in Midland.”

Since then, there has been a growing community that Mason and others hoped would continue to thrive, particularly in the number of amenities, restaurants and events like the Tapped Craft Beer Festival and the evolving Midland Riverdays Festival.

“I had hoped to become a part of a growing downtown environment and that’s definitely what is happening, not just with the salon, but many of our neighbors and friends downtown,” said Mason, “The salon has volunteered at many events like the Tapped Festival and Safe & Sound’s Art + Advocacy and it has been rewarding to be a part of that as downtown grows.”

Downtown Midland continues to see expansion in other areas as well, namely additional food and beverage options.

While they are a familiar face in Downtown Midland with a strong following at the Midland Area Farmer’s Market and several other lunch-friendly locations, Midland Burger Company recently decided to expand their mobile operation to include a storefront location as well, joining Crepes Et Amis as another truck-turned-storefront.

Jim and Ashely Welch, the husband and wife team behind Midland Burger Company may be new to the food-truck scene, but Jim is no stranger to tasty cuisine. Previously, Jim worked at Whine since the restaurant and wine bar opened in 2012 and this year felt like the right time to start something new.

“We have always enjoyed spending time downtown, now more than ever with operating the food truck,” said Ashely Welch, co-owner of Midland Burger Company. “Being able to walk around from one stop to the next without getting in the car is refreshing.”

With a solid base of customers after only opening for business in the spring of 2017, both Jim and Ashley felt it was the right time to expand with the addition of a permanent location.

“When we decided to expand and open a brick and mortar location, it was the first place we looked,” said Welch. “There are great opportunities for businesses of all sizes in the downtown area, and the new investments on Main Street make it very appealing because there is something for everyone to enjoy.”

Continuing to grow the Downtown Midland community will be a major area of focus in 2018 for the DDA and other organizations. Several initiatives are underway and there are many more to come. Residents, business owners and visitors alike will continue to see a vibrant, growing community and evolving sense of place.
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