Our Views: ​Demographics show redevelopment crucial to Janesville’s future

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Friday, July 4, 2014

In Forward Janesville’s summer report, President John Beckord explains well the need for a strong school district and downtown redevelopment with a proposed amphitheater as its centerpiece.

Demographics create concerns, he explains. The Wisconsin Applied Population Lab projects that our state population will grow by 800,000 in the next 30 years. Those ages 18-64 will drop from 63 percent to 55 percent of the population, while those 65 and older will surge from 14 percent to 24 percent.

A workforce shortage could be enormous. That doesn’t bode well for businesses hoping to grow and prosper.

“Cities that have invested in quality-of-life assets will be more likely to retain young people and attract others,” Beckord wrote. “And cities and counties with good—no, great—schools will have a better chance to develop a workforce.”

While Beckord laid out powerful rationale for riverfront redevelopment, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist James E. Clausey struck a similar tone Sunday in arguing for a modest sales tax to help build a new Milwaukee Bucks arena.

Milwaukee and four surrounding counties still pay a penny on every $10 purchase for building and maintaining Miller Park for the Milwaukee Brewers. Critics reason they shouldn’t be taxed so rich athletes and team owners reap more riches. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Racine, Waukesha and Ozaukee counties say they want no part of an arena tax.

Clausey points out, however, that the average person pays just $10 a year toward Miller Park. The ballpark isn’t just for the Brewers; it hosts big concerts and conventions. It boosts surrounding restaurants, hotels and shops. A new arena could likewise bolster downtown Milwaukee’s commerce.

“Milwaukee is competing globally for its economic prosperity,” Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, told Clausey. “Those cities and regions that have a vision and, more important, a plan and execute that vision on how they compete are the ones that are going to be successful.”

The Forward Janesville Foundation has such a vision and plan—to raise $4.8 million not from taxpayers but privately for an outdoor amphitheater that could hold up to 4,200 people. Organizers believe it could be a catalyst for downtown rejuvenation, generate $1 million in visitor spending annually and attract young workers that businesses will desperately seek as demographic projections take hold.

Beckord noted that “communities that have made themselves into very attractive places to live and raise a family will have a better chance of retaining and attracting a working-age population.

“Our recent investments in education infrastructure, recreation facilities and cultural assets will pay long-term dividends. Our next challenge as a community is to become more attractive in other ways.”

That makes downtown redevelopment crucial, Beckord wrote.

“We can’t wait 20 more years to make it happen. It will not be easy. It will be expensive. And it will cause some friction among those in favor of investing in riverfront development and those who just want to fix the potholes and call it a day.”

Demographics suggest Janesville could become a complacent retirement community. Instead, as we rebuild in the void that General Motors left, Janesville should strive to become a vibrant, vital community where the next generation wants to live and flourish.

Please consider supporting the amphitheater and other redevelopment efforts.

Gazette editorials express the views of the newspaper’s editorial board. Readers are encouraged to comment on editorials through letters to the editor.

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