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We were commissioned to create a long-range Strategic Plan and Redevelopment Blueprint for uptown Mt. Sterling, a rural town of 2,000 located in Brown County, Illinois. Working with citizens and civic groups, we carried out a comprehensive study of the city’s history, built environment and planning, and potential revitalization opportunities.

The Redevelopment Blueprint offers a detailed plan for a phased revitalization over the next twelve years. Covering projects in the public and private sector, it sets out a clear strategy and timeline for improvements to architecture, streetscapes, public spaces, transportation and parking, retail and business development, and community programs. The plan lays out economic development and investment opportunities for eight blocks of downtown.

Rather than take a top-down approach to redevelopment, we helped different community groups organize small initiatives – such as an annual regional fair, farmer’s markets and events to support local retail – so residents had ultimate control over what change took place. We helped the community obtain grants to fund the first series of projects and oversaw the work, including the restoration of the water tower, the preservation of the Post Office’s façade and signage, and lighting of the old Courthouse. Working with Dot Foods, the region’s largest employer, we created a façade grant program; renovated the Hagel building, one of the oldest buildings in town that had long been vacant to create leasable space for a new restaurant; renovated a historic building on Main Street for leasable shell retail units; and designed a new building that houses a small, independent supermarket. These first projects have been instrumental in bringing activity back to the town center, and following their success, a number of local business owners have participated in renovations of other historic buildings along Main Street.

We continue to work with the Mt. Sterling Steering Committee to implement the plan, which will continue over the next decade.