Sunday’s front-page story about unruly neighbors causing a Janesville downtown business to close stands as a reminder of the fragility of the city’s downtown revitalization efforts.
The city and private donors have invested millions of dollars in projects to bring the downtown out of the 1960s and into the 2020s, but the investments will come to naught if downtown business owners feel threatened and their customers afraid to visit.
We think the circumstances surrounding the closure of Dirty Bear Soap at 309 W. Milwaukee St. was the exception and not the rule for businesses along this street. This part of the downtown has been taking two steps forward for every step back, not vice versa.
Nevertheless, the blatant disregard for common decency and law by some people living or visiting apartments above the Dirty Bear Soap shop demonstrates just how far the city must go before it can declare its ARISE initiative a success. To have people near the shop making drug deals, urinating and begging people for money demands a response from the city council. It should be paying more attention to the downtown’s residential makeup.
Many businesses in the downtown have tenants living above them, and the quality of these tenants—as Sunday’s front-page story by Neil Johnson makes painfully clear—can affect the business environment. The importance of landlords leasing to good tenants cannot be overstated.
In the case of the owners of Dirty Bear Soap deciding to close, the landlord worked to fix the problem, according to Janesville police. But he obviously erred at the start of the tenant selection process.
The city cannot micromanage landlord’s decisions on assigning leases, of course, but city officials can create financial incentives to encourage landlords to remodel or redevelop their residential properties so they attract young professionals instead of crackheads.
The city has a much-publicized housing crunch and is trying to rectify it by offering tax incentives to developers who want to build new apartment buildings. Multiple projects are now in the works, and we’ve applauded them.
But we’re now witnessing a potential downside to offering tax incentives for developers to build anywhere. Developers have largely avoided the areas of the city that need better housing the most, namely the downtown.
A city proposal to begin restricting these tax incentives to the downtown and brownfield sites seems wiser in wake of the Dirty Bear Soap closure. We encourage the city council to support this proposal or one like it that would funnel housing investments to the downtown rather than the city’s periphery.
We also encourage businesses to call police when they have a problem and call every time the problem recurs. Police are better able to address an issue when they have a complete picture.
The city has spent millions of dollars on a new town square, festival street and other improvements in the downtown. But these investments won’t matter if the problems above Dirty Bear Soap become more commonplace.