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City wants input on planned Milwaukee Street revamp

JANESVILLE

Just over a year after the controversial decision to convert Milwaukee Street from a one-way to two-way road, city officials are planning ways to improve the throughway when it’s reconstructed in a couple years, and they want public input.

A team of city officials, downtown business owners and other stakeholders met Monday to weigh options for Milwaukee Street when the street, terraces and sidewalks are reconstructed between the Rock River and Five Points in summer 2020. A community engagement forum is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 23.

Milwaukee Street needs new pavement and a new water main. While doing that work, the city figured it was time to spruce up the street, which hasn’t been updated since the early 1970s, said Paul Woodard, director of public works.

“It’s time to give it a refresh,” Woodard said.

Milwaukee Street became a two-way road in October 2016. It was a good test run for what will be a more permanent solution, he said.

One problem the test run shows and reconstruction would aim to solve is weaving travel motorists have to endure when driving in either direction. Left turn lanes require motorists move right to continue straight, creating an “odd drive,” Woodard said.

The weaving is a result of officials having to work within the “existing geometry” of Milwaukee Street when converting it to a two-way road and trying to maximize on-street parking.

When the street is reconstructed, work will include terraces and sidewalks, allowing officials to create smoother lanes, said Brad Reents of engineering consultant MSA Professional Services.

The work team considered keeping the left turn lanes but ultimately decided removing them would be better. Without left turn lanes, it might be a bit more challenging for motorists to continue straight if someone in front of them is turning left, but the absence of left turn lanes allows more room for on-street parking, Reents said.

Work team member Britten Langfoss said the turn lanes are annoying and dangerous. Motorists often drive straight through left-only lanes, confusing drivers behind them, she said.

Milwaukee Street has 76 on-street parking stalls. Keeping the left turn lanes would reduce the number to 58 to 67. Taking the turn lanes out could increase the number up to 86 angled and parallel parking stalls, Reents said.

Angled parking would be on the south, eastbound side of Milwaukee Street. The other side would be parallel parking, he said.

The group also discussed head-in versus back-in angled parking, eventually leaning toward back-in stalls.

With head-in stalls, drivers park toward sidewalks with their vehicles’ rear ends pointed toward the street. With back-in stalls, drivers back into angled parking stalls. Back-in parking stalls are gaining popularity around the country, Reents said.

Head-in stalls are easier to park into, but back-in stalls are easier and safer to leave. With back-in stalls, motorists might cut across two lanes of traffic to enter them, which would make leaving the stall challenging, work team members said.

Work team members said they liked the idea of back-in stalls because they would allow residents to access their trunks from the sidewalk and reenter travel lanes without having to back up or look over their shoulders.

The team also discussed removing traffic signals at River, Jackson and Academy streets along Milwaukee Street. Brian Huibregtse of MSA said if there were no signals at those intersections now, it would be a hard sell to install any. Traffic volume isn’t high enough to warrant them, he said.

Woodard said it costs $150,000 to $200,000 for new traffic signals, and some are nearing the end of their usefulness. Keeping them would increase the project’s cost, he said.

The group talked about sprucing up bump outs on the sidewalk corners along Milwaukee Streets. Ideas included building short walls to separate pedestrians from traffic complete with plants and café-style seating.

Other potential improvements include terraces, crosswalks, street lights and more.

The project cost isn’t yet clear, but it will be 80 percent federally funded and 20 percent locally funded, Reents said.

The city will replace the Milwaukee Street bridge and pavement between it and Main Street next year. There are tentative plans to spruce up Milwaukee Street between Main Street and Atwood Avenue in 2022, Woodard said.


Business
State ad campaign aims to lure Chicago workers to Wisconsin

JANESVILLE

Beloit resident Joe Stadelman drives 20 minutes every day to his office in Janesville.

The local architect said he knows some Chicago-area professionals face 90-minute commutes for work.

Stadelman said he can’t imagine losing several hours a day traveling to and from work. It’s not a lifestyle he’d choose.

“If my kids have a program at school, I want to go to that program, and I can,” he said. “I can’t imagine working an hour-and-a-half drive away and trying to make all the things you’d want to make for your kids.”

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation is unrolling a $1 million advertising campaign to try to lure Chicago-area millennials away from the mega metropolis where they work and live—and into Wisconsin.

Stadelman, who is president of Janesville architectural firm Angus Young Associates, is not the poster child for the agency’s new ad campaign. But the campaign leans heavily on sentiments like his, and it could help firms such as Stadelman’s tap into a pipeline of young employees at a time when the Wisconsin labor market is the tightest it’s been in decades.

Over the next six months, the state’s main economic development group plans to ride social media and other advertising platforms to sell Wisconsin as a vibrant state that offers more affordable living, more leisure time and loads less commuting time than life in Chicago.

It’s the start of a multiyear push by WEDC to secure as much as $6.8 million in state funding for a “targeted, multi-agency campaign” to attract young talent.

The agency will blast its message through video ads on internet and social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram, as well as through mobile phone apps and video and music-sharing sites such as YouTube and Pandora.

The ads also will appear on 15 Chicago Transit Authority trains and stations heavily used by millennials, as well as on posters at gyms in downtown Chicago and even on drink coasters at Chicago bars and restaurants.

Tricia Braun, vice president of economic and community development at WEDC, said the ad campaign’s main focus will be a 25-mile radius around downtown Chicago—an area of 1 to 2 million working people between the ages of 20 and 40, according to U.S. Census estimates.

Chicagoland has lagged behind other U.S. cities coming out of the Great Recession, and its 0.6 percent job growth last year is less than half the U.S. average for job growth in the same period, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the same time, the Chicago area continues to see a high rate of outward migration.

WEDC’s strategy in the campaign: Reach those young workers and woo them to Wisconsin.

“Chicago was a very obvious market for us to pick. It’s got a high millennial population. It’s close by. And it’s a not a significant move (from Chicago to Wisconsin),” Braun told The Gazette.

The ads feature videos and photos touting lush, active outdoor scenes and trendy arts and entertainment opportunities in Wisconsin. A few of them show a more laid-back and “natural” lifestyle in the Badger State, juxtaposed with the drab way that some Chicago-area workers spend their free time: commuting on a train.

“We tested some ideas, and one overwhelming idea is ‘more you.’ More time with family and more impact on things that are important for you,” Braun said.

The ad campaign, which WEDC said was developed with statewide businesses and economic development officials, lets people who open the ads on smartphones or other devices enter the agency’s updated website, inwisconsin.com.

The site has sections that highlight each of Wisconsin’s geographic regions and a portal that compiles job listings in all of the main metro areas, including Janesville-Beloit.

The site also allows people to compare housing prices and commute times for various regions and communities.

Stadelman said his Janesville architectural firm did not give WEDC feedback for its ad campaign, but he’s aware the ads will start blasting Chicagoland this week.

Stadelman believes the timing might be linked to Taiwanese company Foxconn’s development of a massive electronics manufacturing complex in rural Racine County. State officials have said the Foxconn plant eventually will require thousands of skilled workers.

Regardless, Stadelman said he believes southern Wisconsin and Rock County are natural draws for anyone living and working near the state line. The area is relatively easy to travel, and the cost of living is reasonable, he said.

He also believes Illinois’ current financial woes and business climate have helped make Wisconsin appear an enticing place for companies looking to move. He believes some of those companies’ employees might have the same feelings.

“There is just a lot of uncertainty in the Illinois climate right now,” Stadelman said. “I hear businesses who operate south of the (Illinois/Wisconsin) border considering when they’ll move north of the border. I think that kind of talk trickles down to employees as well. You’re looking at, ‘Where can I feel better about my job, and where can I feel better about living?’”

Rock County Economic Development Manager James Otterstein said the county in 2016 launched a professional talent recruitment effort via its own jobs board, jobsinrockcounty.com, thanks to a partnership with Rock 5.0 and other local stakeholders. That effort was advertised in northern Illinois, including the Chicago area.

Otterstein said about 40 percent of those who visit Rock County’s jobs portal visit it again. Overall, about a quarter of the visitors fit in the millennial demographic of ages 25 to 35. About 16 percent of all users are people from the Chicago area, he said.

Otterstein said he thinks the new ad campaign will help Wisconsin elevate its profile as a place to work and live through a “much more diverse, deeper and more capitalized (marketing) effort” than it had before.

“WEDC’s campaign is a logical extension, as well as a springboard, for Rock County’s talent recruitment efforts because it allows us to scale, expand and sustain our messaging beyond our normal reach,” he said.

Stadelman said he believes it’s equally important for state and local officials to make sure there’s enough housing in southern Wisconsin. He thinks that’s a major key to draw companies and workers across the border.

“At the point where people are deciding if they’re going to move here to work, the questions are, ‘What is my life going to be like?’” Stadelman said. “’Am I going to like where I work, but also, am I going to like where I live?’”

This story has been altered to supply the correct the year when Rock County launched its own online jobs board. The jobs board when live in 2016.


Government
Town of Beloit applies to become a village; conflict expected

TOWN OF BELOIT

The town and city of Beloit are poised for conflict, now that the town has filed to turn part of itself into a village.

The town Tuesday filed for incorporation in Rock County Court, a step in a process that could lead to a referendum to decide the issue.

Town Administrator Ian Haas said it’s possible the referendum could come next November, but it’s more likely to be held during the regular spring 2019 elections.

Beloit City Manager Lori Luther issued a statement late Tuesday, saying the city “will almost certainly” oppose village incorporation. She didn’t say how.

Luther said she would not respond to further questions Tuesday.

All of the town east of Afton Road would become the new village, an area of about 8 square miles with 6,142 residents, according to the court filing.

Haas said the proposed village portion has about 3,500 properties, while the rest of the town, called “the remnant town,” has about 750.

The town and city share common boundaries, but the city now is able to annex parts of the town. The two municipalities have been meeting to establish boundaries.

The city’s statement says the court filing “effectively ends efforts to find a compromise that meets the needs of the greater Beloit region.”

The town’s filing includes a map designating the part of the town east of Afton Road as the proposed new village of Riverside.

Luther’s statement says the town is “cementing its chosen borders and eliminating the possibility for further adjustment through negotiations. This action makes clear that the town has not negotiated in good faith with the city.”

The statement accuses the town government of taking the action because of money.

Alliant Energy now pays the town and county a fee for its power generation facilities in the town and plans to expand.

Rock County’s 161,000 residents receive two-thirds of the money, while the town’s 7,000 residents receive about one-third, according to the city.

But if the town becomes a village, the village will receive twice as much funding as the county.

“What’s more, this act will reduce efficiencies, raise the cost of services and undermine cooperation, rather than advance regional economic development,” Luther asserts. “The town’s actions are not in the interests of or helpful to building the future for this region.”

Haas said the town is still discussing a boundary agreement with city. Setting boundaries would make it easier to include the remnant town in the new village later on, he said.

The city has said repeatedly that village incorporation would harm the relationship between the neighboring municipalities, “and we don’t believe that to be true,” Haas said.

Haas said town officials hope to add the remaining portion of the town to the village, but they can’t do it now because of state law.

It’s like two people holding hands who can’t go through a door together, Haas said. So one of them has to enter before the other one can.

As part of the process, the town must be able to prove that the remnant town will still receive the services it gets now, so the town is working on a service agreement. The town will ask the court to make the village incorporation contingent on ratification of the agreement, something never done in the state before, Haas said.

The services in question are police, fire, EMS, public works, planning, building inspection, the town clerk and village administrator.

“The intent of the agreement is that everything stays the same, so there won’t be any negative impact on anybody,” Haas said.

Haas said he expects a judge will set a hearing in 30 to 60 days and then certify that the petition meets the standards for incorporation in state statutes.

The court would refer the matter to the state Department of Administration’s Incorporation Review Board, which would have 180 days to review the application and ask for public input, including local listening sessions, Haas said.

The town would submit large amounts of information, and the board would decide whether the town meets the requirements for incorporation.

“I think we exceed all of them,” Haas said.

If the state approves, the matter moves back to Rock County Court, which would order the county clerk to hold a referendum in the area proposed for village status, Haas said.

If a majority votes “yes,” the new village would work to extend its borders to the rest of the town of Beloit, Haas said.Haas encouraged anyone with questions to contact him or elected town officials.