Downtown image on agenda

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Thursday, January 5, 2012
— The owner of a downtown bar said he received eight cancellations for a bar-sponsored event after a story was published Saturday about a fight that resulted in four people being treated at the hospital.

Now, some downtown business owners are talking about organizing a sort of booster organization for the downtown area to find ways to improve its image and continue to attract people.

Police continue to investigate the early Friday morning incident that ended with the four injuries. One person was hospitalized with stab wounds. Two others suffered minor stab wounds and were treated at the hospital and released, as was a man who apparently injured his head on a wall. All were described as men in their 20s.

The fight occurred across from the parking ramp on North Parker Drive.

Pat Wygans, owner of nearby Wiggy's Saloon, appeared before the city's alcohol license advisory committee earlier this week, worried that the fight would hurt people's perceptions of downtown.

Wygans told ALAC members that he had a bus trip in conjunction with a Janesville Jets game scheduled the weekend after the brawl. Four couples canceled because they did not want to go downtown, he said.

Wygans said he also received texts and phone calls from others asking what was going on downtown.

He and Matt Schreier, owner of the Looking Glass, who is also chairman of the ALAC, said in later interviews that they hope the incident was a fluke. They don't want anything else to happen.

"Time will tell," Schreier said.

"You've got a large, full week celebration of the holidays," Schreier said. "There were a lot of kids home. It could have been a one-time thing.

"Part of my gut also cautions me," he said. "The economy just continues to affect people."

Communities such as Janesville must see how they can change people's attitudes and focus on the positive, he said.

"It's very concerning," Wygans said. "Hopefully, we (won't ever be) talking about a death, but we're coming awful close to it with the stabbing."

Schreier said now is the time for downtown business owners to come together and form a hospitality district.

Wygans said he would take a lead role, and he hopes to get a police representative involved.

"The police have been excellent throughout," Wygans said.

Downtown, with its parks and businesses, has become an entity of its own, and the development of a "hospitality zone" is overdue, Schreier said.

"If you want to have a revitalized downtown, all of the businesses have to be working together," he said.

Schreier acknowledged that a downtown Business Improvement District has failed in the past. But BIDs are large-scale and all-inclusive, and some of the businesses did not see the value of their investments or agree on how they would be assessed.

This group would be volunteer.

The goals could include something as minor as trash bin locations to keeping patrons safe or figuring out how to make the downtown attractive for people to live.

"If you really want to work on development, you must increase the reasons to come down," Schreier said. "You must form a core, create a better environment and have that filter out to the bigger community."

Joni Bozart, owner of Carousel Consignments, said joining forces to keep up downtown's image is a great idea.

"Anytime we can promote something together, it's a win-win situation," she said.

"There is more than one thing to do down here, and that is one thing we should capitalize on."

Wygans said he loves the location of his downtown bar. He likes the fact that customers can walk from one venue to the next. He said the parking ramp is a big asset.

"We want people to feel safe," Wygans said. "We don't need a black eye like last week.

"We've got to nip it in the bud."

Did you see Friday's fight?

Janesville police officers are re-interviewing witnesses of a fight involving at least 15 people in the downtown area early Friday morning.

"Initial accounts that we got were very inconsistent," Deputy Police Chief Dan Davis said. "We do believe that we've identified one person who was at least there and involved, but to what extent at this point, we don't specifically know."

One police officer said in an earlier story that the investigation was hampered because the witnesses were intoxicated.

Davis urges anyone with information to call police at (608) 755-3100 or CrimeStoppers at (608) 756-3636. Anyone whose information that leads to an arrest would be eligible for up to a $1,000 reward.

Davis said police hope more witnesses might come forward because the fight occurred close to bar time.

"We're hopeful that maybe somebody else in the community that we haven't talked to may have specific, verifiable information," Davis said.

Last updated: 7:36 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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