When it’s completed, the Blain Gilbertson Family Heritage Pedestrian Bridge will be a place to cross the Rock River on foot in the heart of Janesville’s downtown.
Or a place to stop and sit.
Or even a place to congregate for small events.
Or, as the main benefactor who is fueling the bridge’s construction, Mick Gilbertson, said: The bridge will be a place to catch glimpses of Janesville’s heritage and of a newer generation of heritage that some are helping to bring to the city’s downtown.
At a discussion panel Tuesday night organized by public-private downtown revitalization group ARISEnow, Gilbertson unveiled new architectural drawings and concepts for the planned Blain Gilbertson bridge, which will span the Rock River between Court and Milwaukee streets.
Under designs Gilbertson showed Tuesday night at a discussion panel at the Janesville Performing Arts Center, the bridge would tie together the west side town square and festival street along South River Street with a pavilion being planned in 2020 on the river’s east side—two major portions of the city’s ARISE downtown riverfront revitalization plans.
Plans show the bridge would have a sculpted, curved shape. A vaulted arch would rise above a widened spot at the bridge’s center, creating a 30-foot, diamond-shaped space in the middle that Gilbertson said would be about the size of a school classroom.
Under plans, the bridge could be used as a place to cross, a place to sit on benches, and the large center could serve as a scenic spot where people might host small events.
Gilbertson and his spouse, Jane Blain-Gilbertson, were two of a few major donors to a fundraising campaign for ARISEnow that would fuel private-side revitalization projects along the downtown’s riverfront.
Along the bridge’s side walls, designers would build in “heritage panels” to depict the city’s heritage in industry, agriculture, mercantile, city government and its emerging heritage in innovation in technology.
“The idea is really to celebrate where we came from and where we’re going with this bridge and to connect the two sides of the river—the east side and the west side—to just remember where we are and lead us to all the places where can go,” Gilbertson said.
Gilbertson said construction of the pedestrian bridge, which will be completely privately funded, is slated to begin in summer 2019. He said the project is being scheduled to roll out as soon as a contractor finishes the replacement of the adjacent Milwaukee Street bridge.
He said the project is a “significant” portion of ARISEnow’s $3 million budget for riverfront revitalization projects in 2019.
City Department of Public Works Director Paul Woodard on Tuesday said the state earlier had required the contractor to have the Milwaukee Street bridge project complete in late June. He said the project has been delayed by high water on the Rock River, but the state as of Tuesday had not granted an extension for the project.
ARISEnow used the unveiling of the pedestrian bridge project to show a crowd of about 150 people at JPAC how private donors and private-side projects have begun to fuse with city infrastructure projects in the town square area, which is the core of the ARISE project.
The group has been in the midst of a community fundraising campaign over the last year. It’s raised $5.2 million in private donations, but its goal is to amass $10 million in donations for downtown projects.
Others who are partners with ARISEnow spoke during the panel Tuesday night, including Blackhawk Community Credit Union CEO Sherri Stumpf, who showed images of the $30 million Reflections Plaza, a planned development that will house corporate headquarters for Blackhawk Community Credit Union, along with a legacy center for former autoworkers at the Janesville General Motors plant.
That development would be just south of the heart of revitalization rolling out now in the town square area.
Downtown Business Improvement District Executive Director, Emily Arthur, said Tuesday night that the BID district along with Downtown Janesville, Inc., is hosting several new downtown events that would aim to galvanize interest in areas of the downtown that are seeing improvements through ARISE.
One such event, she said, is Flannel Festival, set for Feb. 23. The event is being pegged as a craft beer festival with a “flannel” theme. Arthur said the daylong event will be held outdoors along the new festival street along South River Street. Flannel Fest, Arthur said, came about after Downtown Janesville, Inc. sold out two wine walks this year.
The craft-beer-and-flannel concept is an attempt to draw more men to visit downtown Janesville, Arthur said. She said flannel clothing will be “strongly encouraged.”
Lloyd Gahart Jr.
Edwin D. Harnack
Jody Scott Manske-Davidson-Abraham
James “Jim” Scharfenberg
A spate of local leaders and residents expressed support for a proposed $405 million casino and resort in Beloit on Tuesday, calling the development a boon for the local economy.
Rock County Administrator Josh Smith told U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs representatives that the county is “strongly in support” of the Ho-Chunk Nation’s planned casino.
He said the project could generate thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in economic output and help alleviate poverty in the area.
The comments came during a nearly two-hour public hearing that drew about 100 people to Aldrich Middle School. The hearing is part of the bureau’s draft environmental impact statement for the tribe’s proposed casino off Interstate 90/39 near Willowbrook and Colley roads.
Included with the 2,200-slot machine casino would be a 300-room hotel, 40,000-square-foot indoor water park, convention center, outdoor amphitheater and 175,000 square feet of retail space.
The project would occupy about 73.5 acres of land. Only about 33 acres are being considered for the federal trust, and the draft environmental impact statement surveys that portion.
Tuesday’s hearing was one of the final pieces of the tribe’s proposal to the federal government. An analysis of public comments and a final environmental impact statement will be completed before the bureau hands down its “record of decision.” Gov.-elect Tony Evers must give final approval.
Residents may submit written letters to the bureau until Dec. 24.
Other public leaders who voiced support for the development were Janesville City Council President Doug Marklein, who said Janesville wants the bureau “to move forward” with its approval, Beloit Police Chief David Zibolski and Beloit Fire Chief Bradley Liggett.
Beloit City Council President Kevin Leavy said the development will attract patrons and labor from neighboring areas, including Illinois, and the regional benefits of the proposal are “quite clear.”
“Beloit has a longstanding record of supporting this project,” Leavy said. “We hope to see a favorable recommendation sent to Gov.-elect Tony Evers in the near future.”
Regina Dunkin, Beloit City Council vice president, said Beloit is a diverse community and welcomes the tribe and the “opportunity to learn from the Ho-Chunk Nation.”
Only a handful of the 32 people who spoke expressed opposition to the project.
Rob Gottfredsen, who owns Austin’s Barber Shop in downtown Beloit, said building a casino isn’t the right move for a city that has seen significant development in the past few years.
Other critics said they were morally opposed to gambling and feared a casino could foster addiction and unhealthy behaviors among residents.
Collin Price, a public relations officer for the Ho-Chunk Nation, said after the hearing that the tribe understands that it won’t sway opinions on gambling.
But he praised the outpouring of support from the community and said the tribe doesn’t see any pressing concerns in its bid.
“This is what we thought it would be. We’ve had a lot of support from business owners, residents, organizations through the years, and that’s what we saw today,” Price said. “We know that not everyone’s in favor of it, and we understand that.”
Price said the tribe hopes the bureau will finish its final environmental impact statement by spring.
According to an economic impact study by the Innovation Group last November, the casino and resort could generate 1,500 jobs and a labor income of $83.7 million. The Rock County economy could see a $225 million impact, according to the study, and the county’s sales tax share could be $3 million.