Revitalizing downtown Janesville would help us all
The recently released City of Janesville Downtown Vision and Strategy has resurrected a long-standing debate about whether investing tax dollars in downtown revitalization is good public policy. Some citizens even shrug off the whole issue and suggest downtown is not important to the community’s overall economic health.
I would like to counter that opinion and make the case that we are at a tipping point, where strategic investments will pay off handsomely for Janesville taxpayers.
First though, consider a non-economic reason why investing in downtown revitalization has merit. Our community’s history and an important part of our future both reveal themselves in our downtown. It really does represent a crucial element of what makes Janesville unique. It is central to the brand we portray to the outside world. We can use it to gain a competitive advantage, or we ignore it at our own peril.
Next, consider the economic rationale for investing in downtown revitalization. In real estate terms, downtown represents a large, underused asset. We have a significant inventory of vacant space. A handful of catalytic projects detailed in the Vision and Strategy document will generate interest by investors and tenants to reclaim unused space.
Another way to look at this opportunity is the potential to increase property tax revenue. By way of example, consider the redevelopment project Forward Janesville and Midwest General Developers are building at the corner of Jackson and Dodge streets. Jackson Square will result in an increase of about $1 million of taxable value when completed. The payoff to taxpayers of a vital, prosperous downtown will be significant. In contrast, a do-nothing approach will result in a declining tax base.
One final thought is the opportunity to leverage outside resources. Going forward, you will see several examples of how locally generated tax dollars will be matched by nonlocal sources of funds. Leveraging local tax dollars will result in an economic impact much larger than if piecemeal revitalization efforts were totally financed with local money.
Building a strong local economy is a bit like assembling pieces to a puzzle. Much has been accomplished in the past decade with regard to economic diversification, transportation improvements, education infrastructure, housing development, commercial development and public facilities. Revitalizing downtown Janesville represents one very significant missing piece of the puzzle.
In every community we have studied, we have learned how critical it is for a strong public/private partnership to make projects happen. Private-sector investors are watching and waiting to see if the public-sector support is for real this time.
We are at a tipping point. The time is right for great things to happen in downtown Janesville.
John Beckord is president of Forward Janesville. The group leads private-sector economic and community development efforts to ensure the continued health and prosperity of business and industry in Janesville. Address 51 S. Jackson St., Janesville WI 53548; phone (608) 757-3160; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.