Janesville62°

Downtown plan earns praise

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Ann Fiore
October 16, 2007

Property owners and residents Monday praised a new downtown plan as the prescription needed to make Janesville’s downtown healthy again.


But they insisted the plan must begin—not end—the dialogue on how to treat the patient.


“This only represents the beginning of the discussion,” Richard Gruber, a spokesman for Mercy Health System, told the plan commission at a public hearing on the downtown plan.


Mercy figures prominently in the 133-page plan, known as the City of Janesville Vision and Strategy. One of its suggestions involves linking the medical community with downtown, which would bring an influx of health professionals and hospital visitors into the city’s center.


“That only bodes well for the economic health of the community,” said Gruber, one of 11 people who spoke at Monday’s hearing.


Ultimately, the plan commission agreed and unanimously sent the plan to the city council with a favorable recommendation. The council is scheduled to review it Monday.


The plan contains other broad and specific recommendations for breathing new life into the downtown. It suggests the city beautify the Rock River, encourage arts and culture, build downtown housing, redevelop historical buildings and connect parks through walking trails.


To implement those suggestions, the city and private sector must work together to form two new organizations. One would take the lead on redevelopment projects, while the other would focus on downtown marketing, beautification and special events. Those efforts would be funded through a Business Improvement District.


Christine Moore, director of the Janesville Design and Development Center, was one of several people who applauded the plan’s implementation strategy.


Past plans rarely offered ideas on how to accomplish goals, she said.


“Plans are not the enemy in downtown revitalization. … Complacency is the enemy. Lack of follow through is the enemy,” Moore said.


But the devil often is in the details, and several people made it clear they didn’t agree with some of the plan’s suggestions. Resident Alfred Lembrich, for one, urged the city to move cautiously and get more public input.


However, nearly everyone said the plan was worth supporting and the time was ripe for discussion.


“It behooves us to get a good, solid plan. This is indeed it,” said Olde Towne Mall co-owner Jackie Wood, who has raised questions about the future of the downtown parking plaza.


Don Allison, board president of the Janesville Senior Center, said he hoped the plan would not ignore the parking needs of the senior population, which is expected to grow as baby boomers retire.


Jonie Bozart, who owns Carousel Consignments with her husband, Larry, said she has heard more than a little gossip about the plan. She said she hoped it would not divide the downtown business community.


“I hope it brings us together,” Bozart said.


Brad Cantrell, the city’s community development director, said the plan’s recommendations aren’t set in stone.


“Plans are living documents,” Cantrell said. “I think changes, obviously, need to be made over time because of opportunities that come into play.”


Downtown plan details


The 133-page City of Janesville Downtown Vision and Strategy contains seven main ideas to enhance the downtown:


1. Embrace the Rock River. Reorient businesses so their backsides don’t face the river. Develop an urban riverwalk. Showcase the arts around and even in the river.


There is too much focus on the river as an east-west divider, said consultant Scott Harrington of Vandewalle & Associates. “The river was a divider, but it should be a uniter,” he said.


2. Celebrate heritage. Develop a children’s/heritage museum. Renovate buildings that played roles in Janesville’s past.


3. Enhance the downtown living environment. As amenities—restaurants, stores, activities—increase, people will want to live downtown. Target markets could include young professionals, retirees, downtown employees, extended stay visitors and artists.


4. Spotlight culture and the arts. Promote the Janesville Performing Arts Center, the library and other destinations and package them properly.


5. Draw on the medical center. Improve visual and traffic connections to make Mercy Hospital and Riverview Clinic of Dean Medical Center a part of downtown. Make sections of Jackson and Franklin streets into two-way streets. Encourage workers to live nearby.


6. Bring “Wisconsin’s Park Place” downtown. Connect parks around downtown—Traxler, Dawson Fields, Blackhawk, Monterey—through riverfront trails.


7. Showcase local foods. A local public market could serve as a regional center for foods grown in southeastern and southcentral Wisconsin. Local restaurants and even Chicago buyers could get their products here.


What’s next


The Janesville City Council will review the downtown plan at 7 p.m. Monday in the Municipal Building, 18 N. Jackson St.



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