Blackhawk Community Credit Union’s decision to abandon plans to redevelop riverfront property in downtown Janesville was disappointing, though the downtown’s prospects are still bright.
For one, the credit union says it wants to redevelop, instead, the former Chase Bank near the soon-to-open Cobblestone Hotel, making it into a legacy center honoring former General Motors workers. The former bank has sat vacant for years, and its redevelopment as a museum will only help the West Milwaukee Street corridor.
The credit union’s original proposal called for building a $30 million Reflections Plaza—a corporate headquarters, legacy center and multi-use commercial space—along a two-block stretch of Water Street fronting the east shore of the Rock River between Hedberg Public Library and Court Street.
It would have been the jolt the downtown needs to re-establish itself as a major commerce center.
Now, the credit union wants to build its headquarters on the west side after acquiring the Moose Lodge site at 2701 Rockport Road. The lodge has been in financial trouble for years and defaulted on its mortgage in January. Amid the downtown’s economic challenges, we must remember the west and south sides have struggled, too, especially in the wake of the GM plant’s closing in 2009. This move would bring to the west side dozens of good-paying, financial jobs, giving west- and south-side restaurants and retailers an economic boost.
Losing the credit union’s future headquarters will set back the downtown’s revitalization but not kill it. The process will just take longer.
The city had proposed paying $7.1 million up front to buy, clean and prepare several parcels along the riverfront and then give the site to the credit union for $1.
We supported this deal in an April 14 editorial, arguing the city would likely need to assume the risk of cleaning the riverfront site regardless of who ultimately acquired it. Though the credit union has changed its plans, the city should consider moving forward with the acquisition and clean-up of some of the parcels.
Another developer might jump at the chance to develop a shovel-ready site with river frontage, especially as the city continues to make strides in implementing its ARISE initiative, which has lured several new businesses and restaurants to the downtown.
From the start, the credit union’s proposal to build a $30 million Reflections Plaza felt a little too good to be true. But, even in failing to come to fruition, the proposal gave the downtown something to aspire to. It gave Janesville a glimpse at what the future could bring.
Maybe that future involves something less than what the credit union had envisioned, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a good fit for the downtown and help propel its revitalization.