A consultant has told the Janesville’s main chamber of commerce the city’s downtown could fit as much as 100,000 square feet of newly built retail space—plus maybe 700 additional apartment units and 150 condos, too.
That would be a lot of construction. And a lot of investment.
It also would require a lot of residents and shoppers to migrate into downtown—either as permanent fixtures who live in the heart of the Bower City or as daytime shoppers and nighttime diners.
Over time, the demand will be there for that scope of continued development, especially new housing, New York-based Weitzman Real Estate Group said in a new market study summary released to the public Thursday by Forward Janesville, the group that paid for the study.
Forward Janesville hired Weitzman last fall to analyze the current ecosystem for new development and renovation of vacant spaces downtown. It was a move the chamber made after silent partners bought the former First National Bank property through contributions to Forward Janesville’s charitable fund.
The property, a defunct but historic bank building at 100 W. Milwaukee St. with neoclassical architecture, vaulted ceilings and 23,000 square feet of space, has been eyed for a time as a potential museum with an ancillary lot big enough that its redevelopment could spur further mixed-use projects such as retail, dining or even grocery stores.
In addition, developers are working to bring dozens of new apartments downtown. Two are in the midst of planning and building mixed-use space that could bring more housing and new retail space downtown.
Much of that work now is starting to happen along a stretch of West Milwaukee Street that has been slower to see redevelopment than the eastside downtown and areas near the new, multimillion-dollar ARISE Town Square that serves as a centerpiece along the downtown’s riverfront.
Weitzman, an independent national market research firm that operates in New York City, doesn’t specifically mention the chamber’s former bank property on West Milwaukee Street, but it does touch on the ongoing revitalization that kicked off in the 2010s along the riverfront and has spread to downtown blocks both east and west of the Rock River.
The study and its summary appear to address certain key “catalyst” sites adjacent downtown’s retail and dining districts where public-private projects might jump start revitalization.
Weitzman scoured input from 45 members of the business community in Janesville, the agency said.
The study indicates that more downtown housing would create “compelling options” that Weitzman said are “mostly missing from the market” in Janesville, including nearby park space, a riverfront and shopping all within walking distance.
The study indicates there is “significant unmet demand for quality rental apartments downtown.” That relative dearth comes at a time when Weitzman estimates that through at least 2025, about 1,800 families a year are likely to seek rental housing in Janesville every year.
The study determined that households would earn incomes that support increased rent costs associated with new construction, although Weitzman said development of new housing or retail shouldn’t outpace metered, phased revitalization work planned on key corridors on the downtown’s east and west sides.
The types of housing developments on the radar in the study appear to be mainly market-rate apartment units, up to 700 in total, but Weitzman also points to an appetite for condominiums that residents might own.
Earlier plans that the city of Janesville has presented for downtown revitalization have shown condo units along South River Street on the west side of the Rock River.