At the corner of East Milwaukee and Main streets in downtown Janesville, Quint Studer watched Sunday afternoon traffic pass. He began to make calculations.
He pointed south down South Main Street.
“Look down that way. You could narrow that whole street by putting in angled parking. That would slow traffic down. And it could add some parking,” Studer said.
Walking around downtown with Studer is like watching a painter position an easel at the end of a street and set to work with brushes and paint.
Except this painter, a former health care consultant turned developer, minor league baseball club owner and community fixer, likes to sketch mental outlines of what’s already there—and then rework the landscape based on what’s there and what it could become.
It’s a little like dreaming, except that in Pensacola, Florida, he actually has helped turn parts of the downtown into a canvas of family-friendly retail, apartment spaces and sports venues.
Thursday, Studer will deliver a keynote talk at Forward Janesville’s 2018 Rock Regional Business Expo kickoff luncheon at the Pontiac Convention Center.
At the sold-out event, Studer’s talk, “Attracting and Keeping Talent Home,” will weave in his experiences of redeveloping parts of downtown Pensacola—where he lives—which a decade ago were part of a blighted, underused area that bore scars of hurricane damage.
Studer has invested millions of dollars to refocus storefronts downtown, reworking the spaces as hearths of niche retail and dining. He has redeveloped office spaces and built apartments in the same area. Not least notably, Studer built and owns a baseball stadium in downtown Pensacola that in 2012 lured the Blue Wahoos, a minor-league affiliate of Major League Baseball.
On a smaller scale, Studer has turned his eye to Janesville, where he once lived.
Two years ago, he and his wife, Rishy Studer, spent $2 million to transform a series of storefronts on North Main Street into Block 42, a set of niche shops and restaurants with a fenced courtyard that faces one of his favorite amenities: the Rock River.
Studer made a fortune as a fixer of financially-strained hospital groups, but in the last few years, he has pivoted. Studer now operates the Studer Community Institute, a nonprofit group that teams with local businesses and university systems in the Pensacola area to focus on community building from within.
The group focuses on skill building for existing employers and small businesses and cultivating a workforce by focusing on children earlier in the educational process. Among other things, the group has focused research on early brain development in learning.
The ultimate goal, Studer said, is to improve communities at their core—which he believes attracts new people—and keep young people who grew up there from wanting to leave.
Over the last year, local private investors have anted up millions of dollars to revive areas of Janesville’s downtown riverfront in tandem with the city’s ongoing ARISE strategy.
In an afternoon walk downtown with a Gazette reporter, Studer talked about his experiences in Pensacola and took stock of Janesville’s downtown. He walked along streets that are blocked by construction work and watched as a family wearing church attire ran through the new water feature in the town square.
Studer said strong communities have ties to universities and institutes of higher learning, and that private businesses and public officials should work together to “program the heck out of” their downtown with events big or small.
He said the biggest leverage might come from local people who have the financial means to create and improve a city.
“It takes getting the wealth in the community off the sidelines,” Studer said. “They might not make as much money as they would in wealth management, but if they put it back into the heart of their community, they’ve got a shot at keeping their grandkids in town. If you can do that, it’s a huge win for a community.”
Studer believes downtown Janesville is off to a “solid” start in a revitalization effort that has both the city and some deep local pockets involved.
He looked at torn-up streets, a work-in-progress riverfront town square, and a new hotel development blocks from a few vacant properties that don’t seem to be getting much attention from their owners.
“What it might feel like for some people is, ‘When is this going to start looking like something?’ That’s because you’re in the early phases of a downtown’s changes. You’re where things haven’t quite meshed up yet,” Studer said.
It took nearly 10 years of work by Studer and others in Pensacola before downtown revitalization got a foothold and developed its own discernible character, Studer said.
“It’s important to know that these things don’t just happen overnight, even when you’re doing the right things—which I think Janesville is,” he said. “It just takes so darn long. You work like crazy, and you work and work some more. At some point, you will hit the point where things tip in a good way.”
Jonathan W. Buehl
John “Jack” Carlson
Paulette “Polly” Ann Christensen
Francis “Franny” James
James C. Morrison
Robert Eugene Pearsall
Josephine M. Pinnow
Glenn A. Stach
Timothy Van Marter
Phillip C. Wilke
The plan commission unanimously rejected a developer’s request to modify the city’s comprehensive plan to facilitate a large multipurpose development on Janesville’s north side.
A standing-room-only crowd packed the council chambers and spilled into the hallway to oppose the project known as McCormick Crossing. It would have included commercial space, multifamily housing, townhouses and single-family homes.
Many of those in the crowd live near the proposed development site, which is located southeast of Highway 26 between McCormick Drive and North Wright Road.
The current zoning dictates the land should mostly consist of single-family homes with room for some townhouses and multifamily residential buildings. It could also be used for green space, schools, churches or neighborhood shops, Planning Director Duane Cherek said.
The developer, DK Partnership, earned procedural clearance from the city council two months ago, allowing the project to move to the plan commission.
DK Partnership eventually retracted the plans and submitted new ones. The new submission expanded the amount of commercial space on the 144-acre property and added some space for townhouses, according to city documents.
Both those revisions reduced the space allotted for multifamily housing.
Ron Combs of Combs and Associates, which drew up the site plans, opened Monday’s public hearing by saying the plans were still conceptual and subject to change.
But nearly everyone who spoke after him opposed the project for the same reasons. They said it would add traffic, congestion and noise and that it would potentially decrease the neighborhood’s safety.
Those who live in the adjacent subdivision said they knew when they bought their homes that the land just north of them would eventually be developed. They expected it to be filled with single-family homes in accordance with the city’s 2009 comprehensive plan.
Current zoning says the residential breakdown should be 60 percent single-family homes with the remaining 40 percent divided evenly between townhouses and multifamily housing.
The developer’s plans for the property call for 25 percent single-family homes, 7 percent townhouses and 68 percent multifamily, Cherek said.
The disproportionate housing ratio was one of the reasons city staff recommended the plan commission reject the developer’s request. A few speakers Monday worried that multifamily housing would bring too many people to the area and make the area less safe.
But most said the new commercial development fronting Highway 26 was their biggest concern. The heavy commercial space was another reason city staff opposed the request.
Resident Ryan Hannah said Janesville should focus on redeveloping current vacant commercial properties such as the former Toys ‘R’ Us and empty storefronts inside the mall. The developer’s revised plan, which added commercial space, was an effort to maximize profit and disregarded the larger community, he said.
Many said they were not opposed to development on the land, but extending Janesville’s commercial corridor to the north wasn’t compatible with their collective vision of a quiet, kid-friendly neighborhood, many speakers said.
Another resident, Sheila Williams, said she was concerned that Coldwell Banker was already marketing 106 acres of the site for purchase. A real estate listing shows a price tag of $37 million and touts the land’s commercial zoning and highway visibility.
Dan Weitzel of DK Partnership closed the public hearing and said the many speakers helped him realize his mistakes. He should have been more transparent and sought community feedback earlier in the process.
He recently held a neighborhood meeting at the site, but many could not attend because of the timing or muddy field conditions. Residents who attended said it was disorganized and insufficient.
But Weitzel said he wanted a second chance.
“I made a mistake. I tried doing too much,” he said, “If this neighborhood will let me and the city planner will let me, then I want to work together and try to find a better solution than what we came up with.”