Midwest Living Magazine wrote, “Towering limestone bluffs and the Ohio River frame picturesque Madison, an old riverboat port of 12,400 so tied to the past, 133 downtown blocks are on the National Historic Register, with buildings dating to 1817. Antiques dealers fill the district, which has served as a model for preservation of other towns.”
I was in Madison last week for the annual meeting of the Economic Development Partners of Jefferson County Indiana, where they were kicking off their new strategic plan. There was a lot of excitement and commitment from the 100 or so that were in the audience. Along with the goals of retention and expansion of existing business, building upon their excellent manufacturing base and continuing to exploit its natural tourism draw, the plan addresses new issues for Madison of attracting active independent retires and developing more of a collaborative approach with the many entities that are involved in ED and tourism. Good goals! The start of some great collaboration!
Corey Murphy, head of the ED efforts, was my tour guide of the community. Once we got to the downtown area it was quick to see why Midwest Living picked Madison, IN as its 4th best small-town getaway in 2007. The town’s historic downtown is largest in the state and one of the largest in the nation from both a physical size and number of buildings metric. Madison was picked in 1977 as one of the three original Main Street program towns, a fact that has only enhanced its appearance over the past 30 years.
An advantage of Madison’s historic downtown is that it is physically separated from its main shopping area. The downtown lies down in the valley along the Ohio River, while the new commercial and industrial areas of the town have grown into the plateau up above. As a result the downtown in many ways looks just like it did a hundred or so years ago.
Over 300,000 tourists come to Madison each year, primarily because of its downtown. However, that downtown is going to be a major plus for recruiting in the new retirees, many of which are going to be starting new businesses. It also could be a major draw for young Millennials who are looking at starting new, innovative businesses. Twisted Pixel, a two year old cutting-edge video gaming company, chose downtown Madison as the place to start their company partially because of this factor. They’ve grown to a dozen employees and look like they could be ready to explode with the new games that they are launching.
Madison has by far the most potential that I’ve seen to really turn its downtown into the main draw for new, creative citizens. The first floors of its many historic buildings are bustling with entrepreneurial endeavors but there is an equally great potential on the second and third floors of those buildings. Upper end apartments and condos would help to create an increasing vibrancy in the downtown, especially before 9 am and after 5 pm.
If you’re in southern IN be sure to stop by Madison.