$2 million in private donations for downtown revitalization announced in Janesville

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Neil Johnson
Thursday, October 19, 2017

JANESVILLE—A group raising money for downtown revitalization linked to the city's ARISE plan announced Thursday it has curried a set of two $1 million donations.

AriseNow, a committee of downtown stakeholders, announced the donations Thursday at the Rock Regional Business Expo, an annual business summit and luncheon hosted by Forward Janesville.

Mick and Jane Blain Gilbertson have donated $1 million to boost ARISE projects, and the Janesville Foundation has donated $1 million, AriseNow finance chairman Larry Squire said.  

Jane Blain Gilbertson is CEO of Janesville-based Blain's Farm & Fleet and Blain Supply.

AriseNow, which is raising money through Forward Janesville's pass-through fund, the Forward Foundation, last week announced that by the end of 2017, it could be about halfway to its goal of $10 million in private funding for ARISE projects.

Projects the group will work on first will be in tandem with a town square project the city has spearheaded that is underway on the west side of the Rock River between Milwaukee and Court streets. That project is considered the cornerstone of ARISE.

AriseNow intends to mesh projects alongside city revitalization downtown over the next five years.

One project AriseNow plans to fund and build is a showpiece pedestrian bridge across the Rock River between Court and Milwaukee streets.

Jane Blain Gilbertson on Thursday said she's supporting ARISE because she believes the revitalization projects linked to it, whether they're publicly or privately funded, will help make Janesville a more attractive place for people to work and live.

For Blain Gilbertson and others, having a showpiece downtown will help local companies recruit professionals, she said.

“Many of my own (job) candidates have asked about the downtown," she said. "I have driven many of my personal candidates through our downtown and talked to them about the things that were happening. You feel their excitement, and I could share that real things are happening.

“It is very, very important to the people that we're attracting to our city what kind of downtown we offer,” Blain-Gilbertson said. “It's a hub. People know to look for that in other communities, and there's other places they (job candidates) are also considering.”

Thursday's announcements are evidence that private backing for the public-private downtown and riverfront revitalization plan is gaining a foothold.

At Thursday's luncheon at the Pontiac Convention Center, AriseNow held a panel to encourage business leaders in attendance to join what the group says is the beginning of a renaissance downtown.

AriseNow includes members from Downtown Janesville, Forward Janesville, the city and the Janesville Performing Arts Center.

Deb Dongarra, a panel speaker and AriseNow member, said she's worked in downtown Janesville for 33 years, and she's never seen this kind of excitement about revitalizing downtown.

Dongarra attributes that to recent public-private initiatives, including the city's approval of a downtown business improvement district designed by downtown stakeholders. The district will draw special assessments from downtown properties and will bankroll beautification projects and marketing of the downtown business district and special events.

City Manager Mark Freitag said Thursday that the city plans to convert part of South River Street adjacent to the town square into a festival street in 2018.

Along with that, the city will finish the town square space on the west side of the river and over the next two years make similar improvements on the east side.

That's in addition to major street and bridge replacements over the next few years that Freitag said will be largely federally funded.

In the next year, the city is poised to commit $6.8 million to ARISE and related downtown projects, Freitag said.

Dongarra said she believes steam is building behind ARISE, and it's because the city and business stakeholders are working together.

Both sides, she pointed out, now have millions of dollars of skin in the game on redevelopments and the ARISE plan.

“We believe it's basically that public-private partnership that is driving this momentum," Dongarra said. "The city's committing significant dollars and resources. The private building and business owners are investing in private redevelopment projects, and individuals are donating money for amenities.”

The city has planned a ribbon-cutting Friday to show off efforts to transform the river's west bank.

The city's portion of the town square project brings new park space, a plaza and a river walk to a former brownfield area along South River Street that the city earlier cleared for redevelopment.

It's the first phase of a redevelopment plan that city officials and private backers say will unfold from downtown's core and, over time, expand outward to other areas of downtown.

Last updated: 1:22 pm Thursday, October 19, 2017

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