Janesville56.1°

What will river look like?

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Marcia Nelesen
September 14, 2013

JANESVILLE--Janesville city staff hopes the next 18 months will usher in a new era for the downtown.

The city in May received a $200,000 federal grant to hire a consultant to create a plan focusing on the downtown riverfront, especially the area around the parking plaza.

The city wants to be ready for the plaza's removal in 2015 and have a plan in place to guide future development, acting City Manager Jay Winzenz said.

Winzenz acknowledged the city has commissioned other downtown plans in the past, but he said other efforts were about the big picture.

“We have good plans,” he said. “Rather, this is a discussion of how those previous plans may be implemented.”

The others plans did not address the removal of the parking plaza.

The 2008 plan, for example, includes all of downtown—from Mercy Hospital to Racine Street and from Five Points to Jackman Street, said Al Hulick, city economic development coordinator.

The new study will focus on the river corridor from Main Street to River Street, he said.

The parking plaza is the “the No. 1 piece of this grant activity,” Hulick said.

“When this goes away, what do we want it to look like?” he said.

The future of the Adams & Sons Roofing property recently purchased by the city will be included in the study, Winzenz said.

Hulick said the city would look for a consultant who can generate ideas to “make Janesville stand out.”

Most of the $200,000 will pay the consultant, Winzenz said.

“It is a significant planning effort to get it to the detail that we're talking about. It takes time to get that information," Winzenz said.

Meanwhile, a parking survey is being readied. Initial findings indicate parking appears to be sufficient downtown in “reasonable proximity to destinations” even after removal of the plaza, said Duane Cherek of the planning department. Staff must define what the consultant considers “reasonable proximity” for a city the size of Janesville.

Some of the questions the consultant should help answer include:

-- Must or should all the river walls remain? Could some be removed or tiered to increase access to the river?

-- What will the shorelines look like?

-- Will walkways connect the east and west sides of the river?

-- Is more parking needed and, if so, where should it be built? About 200 spots immediately over the river will be lost with the demolition of the parking plaza, but some spots could remain along the river. Is that how residents want to use the river?

-- What should the city do on the east and west sides of the river after the plaza is removed? Some have suggested public gathering places or a city market. The city owns the former Siker furniture store and the land around it.

-- Could the city build whitewater rapids starting at the Centerway Dam so people can kayak or tube? The city's public works director has mentioned the idea. What other activities can be offered to entice people downtown? Should the city build a splash pad or band shell?

-- What can the city do to help businesses turn toward the river instead of away from it? Can residents create a global vision where everybody, including developers, is on board?

The city began planning two years ago after receiving a $400,000 brownfield grant. The city looked for contamination in blighted areas, including downtown and North Traxler Park.

The new grant was awarded for the city to study how those areas can be reused and revitalized.

A detailed plan will allow the city to apply for other grants, Hulick said.

“Frankly, this is probably going to require extensive private investment to make (some of these things) happen,” Hulick said. “Publicly-financed projects are more and more difficult to do every day when we are trying to make sure the streets are paved and plowed.”

He said other Wisconsin communities have been able to do it.

The city last week started advertising for a consultant to lead a process that will be heavy on community involvement, Hulick said. He hopes to have a consultant hired by Thanksgiving so the planning process can start Jan. 1.

“We really want to get people excited about it,” Hulick said.

Said Winzenz: “I think it is an exciting time. The removal of the parking plaza could be a catalyst to a number of other projects in the central business district.

“There appears to be renewed energy.”



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