MESSENGER -- Nancy Kimball feels additional parking, parking ramps, condominiums and greenspace are some of the things that are needed to help revitalize downtown Janesville.
Kimball was among about 75 Janesville residents who attended a Jan. 30 public information meeting to discuss ideas to help improve the downtown area.
“I was impressed with how everyone seems to be interested in the downtown,” said Kimball, who works as a Century 21 real estate specialist. “I like the idea of more greenspace and extra parking. You have to have extra parking or people won’t come. ... I think more parking, greenspace and condominiums would be a good thing.
“I think that would make it a more vibrant downtown where people would want to live.” Read the current edition here: http://www.server-jbmultimedia.net/CSI-JanesvilleMessengerSunday
D. Bruce Morrow, landscape architect for SAA Design Group, said his company and city officials are still reviewing ideas that residents presented during the meeting.
“We had a lot of positive comments about the meeting, and there were a lot of positive comments about the downtown area,” Morrow said. “There were also several comments about how to improve the downtown area.”
Some residents suggested more biking and walking opportunities along the river, said Ryan Garcia, city economic development coordinator.
“Some people said they would like to see more opportunities to get on the river,” Garcia said. “They said, right now, the river is kind of tucked in the back of buildings, and they would like more opportunities to get on the river.”
City officials and SAA Design Group are working on the Rock Renaissance Redevelopment & Implementation Strategy program, which includes revitalizing 240 acres of land along the Rock River corridor, from Traxler Park to the Jackson Street bridge.
With a $200,000 cleanup grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, the city’s goal is to redevelop six brownfield sites in the riverfront area. Brownfield sites are properties that could have contaminants because of previous use.
“It can be any vacant or under-utilized commercial or industrial site,” Garcia said. “Bringing them back to a productive use is important for the whole community. It increases the value of those properties and the neighborhoods in which they exist. We’ve been working on addressing and prioritizing and getting to know more about the brownfield sites in our community.”
The six sites that have been selected for the project include 55 S. River St., which includes the parking deck located above the Rock River between Court Street and Milwaukee Street; 110 S. Water St., the former jailhouse site; the 411 block and the 533 block of North Main Street; the zero to 300 blocks of North Main Street; the zero to 100 blocks of West Milwaukee Street and the 100 blocks of South River Street and South Franklin Street.
“These sites were selected because they had characteristics of brownfields or a high rate of development potential of importance,” Garcia said. “They weren’t selected at random. They scored highly on a number of criteria.”
David Schreiber of SAA Design Group said his company will look at ways the sites could be improved.
“Our main steps include documenting key assets. We’re going to be looking at any liabilities we find as well,” Schreiber said. “Second is the site reuse planning, determining what we are going to do with these six sites and how do they tie into the big picture. We’ve got a brownfield area wide plan, which is our third main step, and our final step is the approval of the plan and the implementation of the strategy.”
Garcia said he feels the project will help attract more people to the riverfront area.
“I think for years (the river) ... has been categorized as something that divides our downtown,” Garcia said. “I think if we get something out of this, we can look at the river as something that unifies our downtown and unifies our community.”
City Manager Mark Freitag said he feels revitalizing the riverfront area is important for Janesville.
“I think it’s long overdue. I think it’s a good thing for Janesville,” Freitag said. “What we need to remember is that we’ve done a lot of planning, and what we need to do is execute the plan. I think the redevelopment and implementation and coming up with ideas is a good way to solve the problem, but the key word is implementation.”
The downtown is an important area of the community, he said.
“The city’s center is a big part of the city’s history,” Freitag said. “The downtown is the city’s crossroads. It’s where east meets west and north meets south. Like Ryan Garcia said, you can look at the Rock River as something that divides the city or something that unites the city.
“Anything we can do to bring the city together is a good thing. It will take awhile, but we need to move forward. It’s the right thing for us to get underway.”
Another information meeting will be scheduled for late April.
“We will present some concept plans during that meeting,” Morrow said. “People will have an opportunity to comment on what they would like to see and what they would not like to see. We will also be attending several city meetings and committee meetings before then.”
The city plans to have the project completed in October.
Residents who would like to share ideas about improving the downtown can call Garcia at (608) 755-3180 or the SAA Design Group at (608) 255-0800.
Morrow said he is pleased with the number of residents who have gotten involved with the process so far.
“We had a bigger attendance (at the Jan. 30 meeting) than what we had anticipated. We had some good public participation. We hope people were able to get something out of it.”