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Some West Milwaukee Street building owners renew focus on parking


When Paul and Tom Murphy rework the parking lot at a downtown property they just bought, the two brothers figure they’ll generate another dozen or so parking spots along West Milwaukee Street.

The Janesville men closed on a former funeral home property at 15 N. Jackson St. last week. One of the property’s amenities—in fact, the first amenity the Murphys plan to upgrade and use—is the parking lot at the northwest corner of West Milwaukee and North Jackson streets.

The Murphys want to reconfigure the lot and reserve about 10 spots for tenants of upstairs apartments along West Milwaukee Street.

Some of those apartment dwellers now park on West Milwaukee Street all day or overnight, filling the few parking spots left in front of retail stores.

“That will help move apartment tenants away from the storefront retailers on the street, so they won’t take away from those storefront parking spots anymore. And come wintertime, they won’t have to be moving around for snow removal on the streets,” Paul Murphy said.


Well, it’s as close to presto as you might get along West Milwaukee Street, where property redevelopment and ongoing street projects have gobbled up dozens, if not hundreds, of public and private parking spots both on street and off the street.

Murphy said he’ll start by reserving a few stalls at 15 N. Jackson St. for his apartment tenants who live in units above an active retail storefront he owns in the 200 block of West Milwaukee Street.

Anthony Wahl 

The new owners of the former funeral home property at 15 N. Jackson St. aim to reconfigure the parking lot and make more parking available for upstairs apartment residents. That may help ease an ongoing parking crunch on West Milwaukee Street.

Eventually, Murphy will lease out a half-dozen or so additional spots in the same lot to other apartment dwellers on the street.

The city owns an adjacent portion of the North Jackson Street lot. The boundary between the city’s portion and what is now Murphy’s is in the center of the lot, and for years that divide has remained empty and unused.

Murphy said he believes that section could fit at least 15 to 20 more parking spots if he and the city work together to “reconfigure” the space.

Emily Arthur, director of the city’s downtown Business Improvement District, is part of an ad hoc parking committee, a group of mostly retail business operators that advises the city on possible parking solutions.

Murphy does not sit on the parking committee, but Arthur said members are buzzing about the prospect of using that lot as a pressure-release valve for parking congestion on West Milwaukee Street.

Call it the butterfly effect of West Milwaukee Street parking.

“It’s nice when you have a property owner who you didn’t even have to ask about the topic of parking. They were already on it,” Arthur said. “We’re slowly starting to get there in different spots throughout downtown.”

Arthur said the committee now is focused on a survey of Rock River Charter School students and staff who use parking spots on West Milwaukee Street.

The Janesville School District operates the charter school out of the Kimball Educational Center, a building at 31 W. Milwaukee St. that was given to the district. Students and staff at one time parked in a public lot north of the school, but that lot now is the home of the 53-room Cobblestone Hotel, which is set to open soon.

Arthur said some spots on West Milwaukee Street are designated as two-hour parking, which is geared to make more parking available for customers of stores and businesses.

The charter school is the only school in the district that doesn’t have on-site parking.

“It’s a high number of students and staff at that school. We’re just wanting to figure out where everybody is parking to see if there is a better opportunity for them, or is it just that people don’t realize they could park farther out. They don’t understand that it’s impacting the businesses,” Arthur said.

Anthony Wahl 

Blackhawk Community Credit Union recently bought the former Chase Bank and plans to reopen parts of the parking lot for public use, even as contractors rehab the building’s exterior.

Arthur said the availability of parking on West Milwaukee Street is becoming increasingly important as more storefront owners begin to rehab upstairs apartments. Meanwhile, five or six new retail businesses have opened or are opening soon along the street.

One business, a specialty cheesecake maker, bought a storefront in the 100 block of West Milwaukee Street. That business opens this fall, Arthur said.

Blackhawk Community Credit Union CEO Sherri Stumpf said her credit union hopes to reopen some of the dozens of private parking spots that have been cordoned off at the former Chase Bank property.

The credit union bought the bank last month and intends to rehab it as the future location of the Legacy Center, a museum-like facility honoring union autoworkers at Janesville’s former General Motors plant.

Stumpf said the lot eventually will be for Legacy Center visitors. But in the near term, she said, people patronizing businesses downtown will be allowed to use whatever spots the credit union can make available as crews rehab the building.

Murphy believes a growing number of local residents now own properties along West Milwaukee Street. He thinks that helps matters because local owners are more likely to key on shifting trends, such as how much parking is available, because they spend more time downtown than an absentee owner.

“You approach stuff differently than an out-of-town owner or a trust. You walk around and absorb things and see things and learn things. You’ve got skin in the game,” Murphy said.

“Call it self-serving, but if you’ve got a mortgage to pay on the building and you want to keep retail tenants and make sure they succeed, you’ve got to do things like acquire some parking and figure out how to use it so people can actually get into the storefronts.”

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Elkhorn Flea Market thrives with modest requirement: It's gotta be old


Before there was Potato Head, there was Mr. Potato Head, Mr. Cucumber Head and Mr. Carrot Head.

I know this because all three of them are sitting on my desk, along with Mr. Green Pepper Head and a Parker Pen store display.

The appearance of plastic vegetables with interchangeable parts is an unmistakable sign: Someone has been to the Elkhorn Flea Market. Held four times a year at the Walworth County Fairgrounds, the event has been around for almost four decades. Vendors and buyers come from all over to shop and sell, with the majority of them coming from Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota.

Locals who know about the event might be inclined to keep it under their hat—or, in Mr. Cucumber’s case, his bowler. One woman, who declined to be named, acted as though it was a state secret. She doesn’t tell her family members about it because she wants to “get at the good stuff first.” With more than 500 booths, it’s difficult to imagine how a couple more sisters could make a dent in the shopping experience.

Nona Knapp helped start the flea market in 1982. She and her then-husband enjoyed hunting around for antiques. As a teacher, she had summers off and started small.

It took about 12 years to take off, but when it did, it became the go-to place for dealers and customers.

“Back then, I was competing with a bunch of other flea markets,” Knapp said. “Now they have to compete with me.”

Knapp said raising the bar helped the business thrive.

“We control the type of stuff that comes in,” Knapp said. “It can only be old; it can only be antiques.”

So no dealers with sunglasses, T-shirts, belt buckles or any other newish goods. A handful of vegetable vendors are the exception to the rule.

Knapp’s manager asks vendors what they plan to bring, and crafters are turned away.

Knapp and her husband Skip Knapp make the rounds to all the booths. They don’t mind one or two modern items, but the rest of the booth should be vintage and antique.

And if they’re not?

“Then maybe they won’t get a space next time,” Knapp said.

Another surprising element of their success? Tables.

A number of years ago, Skip Knapp and his son made a number of wooden tables. Designed with the best hardware to withstand tipping and other flea market hazards, the tables allowed dealers to put more stuff in their trailers.

While a few dealers specialized in items such as tools, postcards or vintage jewelry, the majority of booths were a mix of whatever could fit into those trailers.

A quick run through of the grounds took more than an hour. Items for sale included 10-gallon lard buckets, fine bone china tea cups with matching saucers, cottage cheese containers, window screens, church pews, pulpits, headboards, tools, a sign advising that parking was for “McDonalds customers only,” phonographs, record players, costume jewelry, antique furniture, 25-cent buckles, records, old toys, ancient toys, dial phones, toy sewing machines and mid-century modern everything.

Antique and vintage shopping trends wax and wane, Knapp said.

Now, “anything advertising” such as signs and display cases are a big deal.

A couple years ago it was furniture, she said.

Skip Knapp said he saw a hall tree with a bench at its base that would have been worth $2,400 a couple of years ago. On Sunday, it was selling for $395.

As for Mr. Cucumber Head and his pals, let’s just say that their monetary price was reasonable. I mean, when else are you going to get so many hats, hands and noses hands for $15?

John Locher 

FILE—In this Aug. 6, 2019, file photo, people visit a makeshift memorial at the scene of a mass shooting at a shopping complex in El Paso, Texas. At the growing memorial for the victims of this Saturday massacre, the city’s roots in Catholicism and religion in general loom large. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

Death list for Aug. 12, 2019

Edith Pauline Bunton

Kimberly B. Even

Rev. Richard B. Lewis

Garrett S. Melahn

AP: States boost flood protection amid high disaster costs


After devastating flooding this year, Iowa put $15 million into a special fund to help local governments recover and guard against future floods. Missouri allotted more money to fight rising waters, including $2 million to help buy a moveable floodwall for a historic Mississippi River town that’s faced flooding in all but one of the past 20 years.

In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced $10 million to repair damaged levees while creating a task force to study a system that in some places has fallen into disrepair though years of neglect.

The states’ efforts may turn out to be only down payments on what is shaping up as a long-term battle against floods, which are forecast to become more frequent and destructive as global temperatures rise.

“What is going on in the country right now is that we are having basically an awakening to the necessity and importance of waterway infrastructure,” said Arkansas state Sen. Jason Rapert, a Republican who has been pushing to improve the state’s levees.

The movement is motivated not just by this year’s major floods in the Midwest, but by more than a decade of repeated flooding from intense storms such as Hurricane Harvey, which dumped 60 inches of rain on southeastern Texas in 2017. In November, Texas voters will decide whether to create a constitutionally dedicated fund for flood-control projects, jump-started with $793 million from state savings.

For years, states have relied heavily on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay the bulk of recovery efforts for damaged public infrastructure. While that remains the case, more states have been debating ways to supplement federal dollars with their own money dedicated not just to rebuilding but also to avoiding future flood damage. Those efforts may include relocating homes, elevating roads and bridges, strengthening levees and creating natural wetlands that could divert floodwaters from the places where people live and work.

“There are states who are realizing that they have an obligation to step up here, that flooding is really a state and local problem, and the federal taxpayer is not going to totally bail us out. We need to be thinking ahead and helping ourselves,” said Larry Larson, a former director and senior policy adviser for the Association of State Floodplain Managers.

Although President Donald Trump has expressed doubt about climate change, even calling it a hoax, a National Climate Assessment released last year by the White House warned that natural disasters in the U.S. are worsening because of global warming. The report cited a growing frequency and intensity of storms, heat waves, droughts and rising sea levels.

Instead of pointing at climate change, governors and lawmakers in some Midwestern states have blamed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for worsening floods by the way it manages water along its network of dams.

Preliminary assessments compiled by The Associated Press have identified about $1.2 billion in damage to roads, bridges, buildings, utilities and other public infrastructure in 24 states from the floods, storms and tornadoes that occurred during the first half of 2019. Those states also have incurred costs of about $175 million in emergency response efforts and debris cleanup.

In addition, an AP survey of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers districts found that this year’s floodwaters breached levees in about 250 locations in Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. Some levees crumbled in multiple spots, including one near Missouri’s capital city that inundated the airport. When it’s rebuilt, the floor of a new airport terminal will have to be 11 feet higher to meet federal flood-plain regulations, said Jefferson City Public Works Director Matt Morasch.

The Army Corps estimates that levee repairs could top $1 billion in the Missouri River basin, where most of the breaches occurred.

The nation’s disaster costs for public infrastructure will undoubtedly rise throughout the year. The Army Corps has yet to inspect all the damaged levees, officials in Illinois, Louisiana and elsewhere are still assessing damage to their flooded infrastructure, and the annual hurricane season is just getting underway.

Beyond that, the AP’s preliminary figures do not include damage caused by wildfires, which have become increasingly destructive in Western states.

The AP’s research shows that Nebraska was one of the states hardest hit by the flooding, with a preliminary assessment of about $435 million in damage to roads, bridges, utilities and other public infrastructure from a March storm . Rain fell on a still frozen terrain, causing a sudden snow melt that sent huge chunks of ice barreling down swollen rivers.

Nebraska has a regional network of Natural Resource Districts that could direct local money toward flood protection. Like most states, it also budgets money to pay the state’s share of FEMA disaster recovery projects, and the state plans to hire a contractor to help develop a long-term recovery plan.

But until now, the state has not had a coordinated strategy for taking steps to reduce flooding risks, said Bryan Tuma, who leads the daily operations of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency.

Only a few Midwestern states have pumped much of their own money into flood prevention.

Minnesota created a grant program in 1987 that has since awarded almost $525 million to local projects.

After extensive flooding in 2011, Iowa launched a unique program that lets local governments keep a portion of their growth in state sales tax revenue to help finance levees, floodwalls and other projects designed to hold back rising waters. The state expects to forgo nearly $600 million of revenue over 20 years to help pay for nearly $1.4 billion of projects in 10 cities. But applications for that program closed several years ago, leading Iowa legislators this year to put $15 million into a separate fund to pay for flood prevention and recovery.

“As a state and, I think as a nation, we’re finally starting to get there—recognizing that making an investment in mitigation pays off in itself over the course of time,” said John Benson, chief of staff for the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

In Texas, the proposed constitutional amendment creating a $793 million flood infrastructure fund is part of a broader package. Among other things, lawmakers appropriated $638 million to help local governments pay their share of FEMA recovery and flood-protection projects, and $47 million to update or develop flood-risk maps.

Sponsoring Rep. Dade Phelan, a Republican whose district was swamped by Hurricane Harvey, said too many cities, counties and drainage districts have been going it alone instead of working together on regional flood-management plans. The scattered approach has resulted in “roads that act like dams” and neighborhoods built in flood zones, he said.

Bryan Wegter 

Evansville’s Nolan Strzok lays down a bunt in the seventh inning of a Home Talent League Southeast Section semifinal against Albion on Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019, at Albion Park.