Janesville wants to clear properties for riverfront plan

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Neil Johnson
Monday, July 7, 2014

JANESVILLE—Residents soon will see changes downtown if the city buys property that's in the footprint of Janesville's proposed riverfront revitalization project.    

On Monday, the plan commission signed off on closing a $150,000 deal to buy an office property at 51 S. River St.. Investment consultant Michael Tracey owns the 1,800-square-foot property, which is attached to the 20,000-square-foot former Plaza Furniture property at 55 S. River St. The city bought that building in 2012.

The city council could give the buyout final approval through a resolution July 14, officials said.

Under city plans, both buildings would be demolished concurrently. That could open up space for interim parking, according to a city memo. It's unclear how far that could go toward replacing some 230 parking spots that will be lost when the city removes the downtown parking plaza over the Rock River in 2016.

In the long term, the city views the parcel holding the two buildings as a potential entryway for the Rock Renaissance Area Redevelopment plan—a proposed riverfront revitalization the city's been working on the last several months.

The riverfront plan, which spans both sides of the river from Traxler Park to several blocks south of downtown, still is being fleshed out through the city, design consultants said.

The council and the plan commission in a joint meeting Monday heard an update from consultants on the riverfront plan. The city is holding its third community forum on the plan next week as it shifts to an analysis of how the project could be funded.  

City planner Duane Cherek called the South River Street property “significant” because it adjoins the riverfront. He said a 2007 city redevelopment plan designated the buildings as “non-contributing” structures, and earmarked them for eventual removal. 

City Economic Development Coordinator Ryan Garcia told The Gazette that removing the two properties would open up a strategic space for part of the riverfront plan.

Garcia said that based on current plans, the spot would lead into a pedestrian bridge where the river parking plaza now stands. It also would tie into a continuous river walk and town square, according to consultant's plans.     

Garcia said the council originally approved the city negotiating to buy Tracey's property in January 2013, but talks stalled. He said Tracey contacted the city this spring with a renewed interest to sell.

According to city records, Tracey's property is assessed at $151,000. Garcia said the city would use money from a nearby Tax Increment Financing district to buy the building.

A consulting business now runs in of the property. Garcia said that under negotiations, the sale does not include the city paying for relocation of the business.

The city could demolish both buildings late this year or early next year, but the exact timeline would hinge on a $150,000 Brownfield grant the city has applied for, Garcia said.

The grant would cover demolition and site testing.

The city has been grappling with some residents' concerns that downtown doesn't have enough convenient parking. Conceptual plans for future lots downtown have cost estimates ranging from $112,000 for an additional, 40-stall surface lot to $3.3 million for a parking structure, according to Gazette reports.  

Some city officials, including City Manager Mark Freitag, have said they're not convinced additional parking would satisfy the perception that there isn't enough parking.

Garcia said people shouldn't expect the city to convert the South River Street properties into a block of permanent parking to make up for the eventual removal of the parking plaza. 

“As far as parking alone, no," Garcia said. "There could be some street parking there, but to say there is going to be a large surface lot there, that would be entirely inaccurate."

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