A few weeks ago, my daughter and I ventured downtown on a crisp Saturday morning for coffee and a bit of shopping.
The coffee spot was Bodacious Brew — a part of Block 42 on Main Street. The Studer family was the driving force behind taking an underutilized property downtown and bringing it back to life. They’ve done it in other communities and knocked it out of the park in Janesville. It’s been a breath of fresh air on North Main Street.
Between our first and second sips of coffee I asked my 19-year-old; “Is there anything missing in downtown?” I respect her opinions. She’s decided to continue to call Janesville home and I am fairly certain will do so after her professional training is over.
The next 30 minutes was a fascinating discussion. Our coffee went from a dad and daughter catch-up to a single-person focus group.
Her comments weren’t critical, but critiquing. Her questions were not judgmental, but inquisitive. Bottom line, my Gen Z kid is pleased with the service amenities that have opened downtown in the last five years. She likes the coffee selection — a big deal with the kids these days.
But she knows in order for downtown to thrive we need consistent traffic not dependent on a special at a restaurant or a Festival Street activity to drive footsteps. Downtown needs to stand on its own.
I asked, “What’s the one thing? What is needed?”
Those were tough questions. We paused a bit while we discussed the customer experience at Bodacious — which we shared with Mr. Studer and his team downtown.
Finally — an answer. Apartments. Affordable, but you have to have amenities to draw that easy lease sign a few seconds off the interstate on Myrtle Way. There isn’t one place that came to mind when pitting Myrtle Way to anywhere downtown that Saturday morning.
We have much needed low-income housing on Jackson Street, a cool space at the old Marshall, the old Cotton Mill is getting a facelift, and a renovation is in-progress at the Monterey. Can they compete with new places close to the interstate? That’s a tough sell.
Are there opportunities? We saw a few spaces. There’s green space on Festival Street and a large spot between the senior center and the library.
Why did the conversation eventually land on apartments? My daughter understands that in order for a downtown to not only survive, but thrive, residents need to go downtown. The operative word is need. If a younger generation can find the amenities needed, they won’t have to drive to many places. They will be able to walk and support those restaurants, coffee shops, and dare I write — even a grocery store downtown.
Our coffee catch-ups are fun and I generally learn more from her than she does from me. I certainly did a few Saturday’s ago. Give our next generation a reason to not only explore downtown but call it home. What’s the “one thing” needed in your mind for downtown Janesville to thrive?