Even though the ongoing pandemic might bring hurdles to new businesses for months—and even as downtown west of the Rock River grinds through its second major street tear-up in two years—there are signs that a bit of momentum could be returning to the area.
Take the planned Wall Street Suites: a 6,000-square-foot set of office suites and a companion drive-thru coffee shop that a set of local developers says could spring up later this year just west of Janesville City Hall.
When the city council this week approved a zoning change and OK’d a $120,000 tax-incentive package along with a transfer of a sliver of city land to help ease the Wall Street Suites into development, the council’s approval came with a few wishes of good luck to the developers.
Compared to a downtown hotel buildout or a multimillion dollar public-private investment in a town square that has reshaped Janesville’s riverfront, a coffee shop and office project might be considered small scale.
Yet the project marks the first time since 2007—prior to the Great Recession—that any new retail storefronts have been built on the west side of downtown.
City Economic Development Director Gale Price said he thinks that is significant.
Price sees the project as evidence that revitalization that came prior to a pandemic and two full years of near-constant construction along West Milwaukee Street could pick up again.
West Milwaukee Street is neck-deep in a full tear-out and rebuild from street surface to sidewalks. That work should wrap up this fall, and some easternmost sections of the thoroughfare will reopen in midsummer, according to project timelines.
Price thinks that as potential investors see downtown re-emerge from heavy street work later this year, interest in projects likely will pick up. Price said a few storefronts along West Milwaukee Street have new tenants, and that could drive some nascent plans for renovations of apartment spaces above them.
But perhaps a bigger driver is the fact that a new apartment complex—River Flats—is completed and is opening now. The apartments, which are just north of the core of downtown, will bring a few hundred new residents downtown. They would be within walking distance of the Wall Street Suites coffee shop.
“The coffee shop, certainly, is indicative of support from the apartments that are coming in. If you didn’t have those apartments, would that project happen? Most likely not. You’ve got to have enough people to drive and walk in as users,” Price said. “When you wake on Saturday morning and you decide you want to go out for a cup of coffee, you can walk or just do a short drive.”
Another developer is working through plans to convert the six-story Monterey Hotel to apartments.
Price said there are a handful of other projects to convert spaces for three-unit to five-unit upstairs apartments that he thinks could move forward later this year.
“Certainly the pandemic and street project is going to put a pause on for some people pulling the trigger early this year. But certainly later this year, they’ll make that leap forward,” Price said.
Higinio Gultierrez Aceves
Irene Ferne Anderson
Dorothy L. Cassity
Delbert L. Fassbender
Ruth A. Fischer
Gladys M. Kreger
Don P. Najdowski
They’re like tiny vampires. They bite you and drink your blood, which gives them the energy to produce offspring.
Janesville residents have reported being attacked by the tiny insects in recent weeks. UW-Madison insect expert P.J. Liesch said from the description, they’re most likely black flies.
“I noticed them because they were buzzing around my head, but I didn’t realize they were biting me until later,” said Ann Fiore, a Gazette employee.
Fiore estimates she was bitten 15 to 20 times on the face and neck, even though she put a sweater over her head to keep them away.
Marcia Merrick of Janesville said she was working in the garden Sunday, came indoors and ran her hand through her hair and felt a sticky substance. It was her blood.
The bites began to itch and turned into a big, hard welt, she said.
“It’s still itching today, and it’s just starting to go down,” Merrick said Thursday.
“They started itching that night and swelling a little,” Fiore said. “I cleaned off the dried blood with alcohol. The next day, my left eye was almost completely swollen shut, and my neck was puffy and on fire.”
Fiore applied Benadryl cream and alcohol and tried cold compresses, “but it was four days before I looked normal again.”
Liesch recommends anti-itch creams, and if people are concerned, they should talk to their doctor.
A friend told Merrick she took her dog to a veterinarian for suspected ringworm, but the ailment turned out to be black fly bites. The vet told the friend that lots of dogs had been brought in with the same problem.
“For their small size, they (the flies) really do pack a punch,” Liesch said.
Sometimes, bites can enlarge lymph nodes. The flies can bother livestock, making them run around rather than eating, which can mean weight loss, anemia and less milk production in cows.
It’s normal for people to notice the flies but not realize they’ve been bitten, Liesch said. That’s because the flies inject an anesthetic.
They also send an anti-coagulant into the skin of the human or animal, which keeps the blood flowing.
“They’re very fond of the neck and hairline and locations like that,” Liesch said.
Liesch said he has received quite a few calls about the flies from all over the state this year.
While the flies are most often found near big rivers, they can be blown as far as 10 miles from the waters where they hatch, Liesch said.
Black flies lay their eggs in moving water. Larvae hatch and feast on organic material in the water before becoming flies. Once they take wing, they are active for a few weeks, Liesch said.
“Things will get better. There’s always a possibility that when one species is wrapping things up that another species will emerge,” Liesch said, but black flies normally go away by July.
Liesch said Wisconsin is home to more than 30 types of black flies, but only a few will bite humans.
Liesch recommends long sleeves and pants, which flies can’t penetrate. Mosquito netting also helps, especially for people outside for longer periods of time in warmer weather.
People relaxing on a deck can get relief from fans because the tiny flies can’t fly against fast-moving air.
Mosquito repellents help sometimes but sometimes don’t, Liesch said.
Fiore’s advice: “If you see tiny flies around you and you’re not wearing insect repellent, go inside.”