JVG_200713_SURVEY

Walkers make their way along the section of the Ice Age Trail that passes through downtown Janesville’s ARISE Town Square on Sunday.

JANESVILLE

Public and private groups involved in ARISE, a yearslong revitalization effort of downtown Janesville’s riverfront, plan to use a recent survey to tap ideas other cities are using to boost their downtowns.

Maggie Darr, assistant to City Manager Mark Freitag, said the public-private ARISEnow organization plans to reach out to three of the 19 peer cities that responded to the Downtown Revitalization Survey.

Darr said three cities in particular laid out ideas that might mesh well with revitalization efforts underway in downtown Janesville since the city launched ARISE six years ago.

“ARISEnow has asked the city to set up some follow-up meetings with those three municipalities so that we can dive deeper into some of the programs and strategies that they use,” Darr said.

Darr wouldn’t name the three peer cities because she said the city is still reaching out.

A review of other cities’ downtown strategies dominates the 40-page report the city compiled from the survey, which was conducted earlier this spring by a paid city intern.

ARISEnow, which the city is involved in along with several downtown groups, had suggested conducting the survey.

Cities that responded to the survey provided ideas on how they use public tax incentive programs, grants and private initiatives to identify and execute revitalization efforts in their downtowns.

The city in the survey also analyzed bicycling access, walkability and access to public transit and compared how Janesville stacks.

Overall, the survey shows Janesville ranked near average in scoring for all transportation categories surveyed, although the city ranked fourth of the five communities that had scores registered for biking, walking and transit.

Some strategies other peer cities volunteered in the survey were simple, private-side initiatives.

For instance, Eau Claire private economic development group Downtown Eau Claire, Inc. has commissioned artists to paint murals on sheets of plywood used to cover vacant storefronts.

Other initiatives are more rooted in public policy and the use of tax incentive programs that have been tailored to fit downtown economic development efforts.

Beloit operates a $230,000 “upper-story” grant program that uses tax increment financing to boost rehabs and renovations to upstairs properties above downtown storefronts.

The privately run Downtown Fond du Lac Partnership works to earmark two downtown properties each year for possible reuse. The program focuses on properties that are for sale.

The Fond du Lac group also privately tracks downtown vacancy rates and gauges the proportion of public investment to private investment in the downtown, according to the survey.

Those efforts are in tandem with the city of Fond du Lac’s Downtown Exploratory Committee, which works to identify downtown areas that need improvement.

Sheboygan hosts an annual developers summit focused on downtown, and it has provided “pay-as-you-go” tax incentives for environmental cleanup projects that are required to redevelop downtown parcels, according to the survey.

Darr said that after Janesville meets with the three peer cities, the city and an ARISEnow steering committee likely will review dozens of strategies other cities provided in the survey.

Darr said if the city or ARISEnow seeks to use some of the peer cities’ strategies, it could involve adjusting economic development policies tied to use of tax incentive programs or implementing new programs.

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