Janesville celebrates ARISE progress
JANESVILLE—Less than a year ago, residents were slamming sledgehammers into the surface of the downtown parking plaza over the Rock River to initiate its eventual destruction.
Eleven months later, the parking deck is gone, and the city has started redeveloping the west bank into a park. The Town Square between Milwaukee, Court, River and Water streets downtown hardly resembles the concrete lot that filled the space in January.
City officials took a moment to celebrate their progress with a ribbon-cutting Friday.
The weather was perfect for an outdoor event. The Craig High School jazz band played softly as hundreds of people checked out the new lawn, stone steps and floating dock. Residents waved as a kayak floated past.
City Manager Mark Freitag said the improvements have been in the works for years.
“It's finally arrived,” he said before thanking several people and organizations for seeing the vision through.
The city already is well on its way toward its next ARISE project.
On deck are plans to convert South River Street between Milwaukee and Court streets into a festival street.
Starting in the summer, the city will begin implementing its plans. Arched gateway entrances will be built on both ends, and the city will install festive lighting along the stretch of road, said Paul Woodard, director of public works.
The street won't have curbs or gutters to provide a flat walking surface building-to-building. Both ends will have retractable barrier posts that will rise to close off the street, Woodard said.
Woodard sees the street being used for art shows, car shows, musical performances and other public events. When the street isn't being used for events, vehicles will be able to drive along it, he said.
There's vacant buildings in the northwest portion of the intersection of River and Dodge streets. There's only so much the city can do to see them developed, but “ideally, that'd be a great location for a restaurant or retail use downtown,” Woodard said.
The festival street should be complete by August or September, but the city didn't originally plan to even start the festival street project until 2019, Woodard said.
Originally, the city planned in 2018 to redevelop South Water Street between Milwaukee and Court streets on the east side of the Town Square. Plans to rebuild the Milwaukee Street bridge in 2019 and other factors convinced the city to flip-flop the South Water Street redevelopment and festival street projects, Woodard said.
To prepare for the Milwaukee Bridge replacement, Alliant Energy soon will begin tearing up South Water Street to relocate lines. With the company working on the street's north side, the city would have been able to redevelop only the south side of South Water Street, delaying the project, Woodard said.
“Then you'd have Water Street in two phases in two years, which is disruptive,” he said.
Instead, it makes more sense to delay South Water Street's redevelopment and finish up the Town Square's west side first, Woodard said.
Saving time isn't the only advantage to switching the two projects; the move also saves money, he said.
The city wants to redevelop the Dodge Street parking lot near South River Street adjacent to where the former parking plaza once stood. Combining that project with the festival street work should save money, Woodard said.
The city was considering making the parking lot along East Milwaukee and North River streets a staging area for the Milwaukee Street bridge replacement, but the lot will be redeveloped into a hotel in the spring. By delaying the South Water Street work, crews can instead access the Rock River and the bridge from the South Water and Court streets corner where crews entered to tear down the parking plaza. The same area could be used as a staging area, Woodard said.
Making a festival street isn't the only ARISE project the city will work on next year.
In the spring, crews will finish constructing the delayed interactive water fountain Forward Janesville originally had hoped to open in September. The fountain will feature water jets, misters and changing lights.
By the summer, the city will extend the Ice Age Trail in front of the fountain. It will run north over the west edge of the river and connect to the existing trail at Milwaukee Street, Woodard said.
Pending Janesville City Council approval Monday, the city in April will start converting Court Street to a two-way road between Academy and Adams streets. The project will add bike lanes and on-street parking spots along the stretch, he said.
The charitable organization of Forward Janesville, the Forward Foundation, has a goal to raise $10 million to help fund ARISE projects. The group hopes to be halfway to its goal by the end of the year.
ARISENow, a committee of downtown stakeholders, announced Thursday it received two $1 million donations. Some donations aren't given toward specific projects, so a Forward Foundation committee decides where to allocate the money based on stages projects are in, said John Beckord, Forward Janesville president.
Forward Foundation is committed to funding west-side Town Square improvements before putting money toward a Janesville Performing Arts Center improvements and a planned amphitheater, he said.