Janesville City Council approves downtown plan

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Ann Fiore
October 23, 2007
— They pleaded with the city council to protect Janesville’s historic neighborhoods, preserve the historic Monterey Hotel and add downtown parking for the senior center.

After residents had their say Monday, council members chose to say little and instead let their votes do the talking. After a brief public hearing, the council unanimously approved an ambitious plan to breathe new life into downtown Janesville.

John Beckord, president of Forward Janesville, said he could see the passion that people feel about the downtown.

But talking about the plan is the easy part, he said.

“The heavy lifting starts after we finish the approval process,” Beckord said.

The council’s approval means Forward Janesville and City Manager Steve Sheiffer can start organizing people and prioritizing redevelopment sites, said Brad Cantrell, the city’s community development director.

Recent downtown discussions have sparked the interest of developers, some of whom have called Cantrell recently to ask about the plan.

“I really think there’s a renewed interest in downtown,” Cantrell said.

The 133-page plan, known as the City of Janesville Downtown Vision and Strategy, is the latest in a series of downtown revitalization plans.

It offers recommendations on how to enhance the Rock River, encourage arts and culture, build downtown housing, redevelop historical buildings such as the Monterey, link the medical community with downtown, and connect parks through walking trails.

The plan also contains an implementation strategy, suggesting that the city form two groups.

-- The Downtown Renaissance Partnership, a public-private partnership between the city and Forward Janesville, would make redevelopment recommendations to the city council.

-- The Downtown Action Alliance would involve business owners and would get its funding for marketing and beautification from a new Business Improvement District.

Those groups could be functioning by the end of the year, consultants have said.

A committee of the Downtown Action Alliance could start meeting with business owners by next year to determine how much of a BID assessment they could support.

As part of his proposed 2008 budget, Sheiffer has set aside $1.5 million for property acquisition related to the plan.

Council member Paul Williams, who also is the plan commission chairman, said the latest downtown plan is basically a good one.

“Is it the perfect plan? Probably not,” he said. “But it’s something that can be taken from this point” and fine-tuned if needed.

Council member Russ Steeber was absent Monday.

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