Master Plan gives Milton, Bagdad a one-two punch

Published on July 18, 2013 with No Comments

A hotel in downtown Milton. A new community activity center. Two theaters, an amphitheater, an arts and crafts center that gives new life to the Santa Rosa Courthouse, and an entertainment area full of restaurants and shops facing the Blackwater River.


In Bagdad, a new heritage center that brings attention to the community’s rich history, parks that welcome visitor and resident alike, and an area set aside for canoe and kayak launching only.

Linking Milton and Bagdad: a “green spine” of nature that encourages people to bicycle, walk or boat along the Blackwater River as it passes the two communities. A boardwalk  “skims” over the river, making it even more accessible to people.

These are just some of the proposals in the Riverfront Master Plan, which seeks to maintain “the fine balance between small town charm and modern urban life” and capitalize on the “old Florida” aspects of Bagdad and Milton. It promotes Milton as the center for eco-tourism and arts and crafts and Bagdad as an outdoor museum and cultural center perfect for the heritage tourist.

The Riverfront Master Plan, an ambitious blueprint for the future, is built on a theme of “Real River, Real People, Real History.”

It’s built around the water that flows past both communities.

“The riverfront in Milton and Bagdad is the attraction that brings life to the community and sets it apart from other places,” says the report.

Its five goals: Promote design and development that is compatible with Bagdad and Milton; promote economic development and encourage private investors; protect the integrity of the Blackwater River ecosystem; promote arts, culture and heritage to draw tourists and enhance community identity; and improve the experience of moving through the community by connecting destinations, activity areas and attractions in smarter, more appealing ways.

One of its top recommendations; Develop a stylish new boardwalk that significantly extends the reach of the existing Riverwalk.

The new boardwalk would take people extra close to the water, offer seating areas, and would be built so that it can be moved around to give people a changing experience.

It also urges development of a riverfront trail connecting Bagdad and Milton.

The report follows a study by planning experts who met with community leaders and held public meetings in search of ideas for smart use of our history, climate, natural resources and wildlife.

The idea is to build on the existing attractions – arts and theater, architecture, the lumber industry, kayak routes through live oaks and spanish moss, and a Blackwater River which people share with alligators, bull sharks, herons, pelicans, snakes and sea turtles.

The study was led by Peter J. Smith and Co., an award-winning firm that has worked on numerous waterfront plans around the nation in its 30 years as a consultant.

The study is a joint project for Milton and Bagdad as both communities seek ways to upgrade the quality of life and attract new business. The Tourist Development Council and the City of Milton paid for the study.

Individually, Milton and Bagdad draw some visitors, but together they can offer a stronger appeal to tourists and residents alike, especially when people realize how close the communities are and how much they offer in both history and modern amenities.

Financing is always a concern, but officials hope to obtain money from the funds established to award money to areas hurt by the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, local agencies can seek funding from state and federal governments. The study lists some anticipated costs and other challenges.

Please follow the next stories as they look at plans for Milton, Bagdad, financing and other issues.

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