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Riverfront redevelopment plans near completion

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Marcia Nelesen
July 15, 2014

JANESVILLE--A “town square” concept has emerged as an integral piece of Janesville's downtown rejuvenation plans.

Work on the Rock Renaissance Area Redevelopment and Implementation Strategy continues, and the group behind the plan will host the third of four public meetings at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Janesville Performing Arts Center.

The last meeting is Wednesday, Sept. 10.

A completed plan should go before the council by the end of the year.

Once a plan is approved, city staff will contact developers to sell ideas and pledge city  support, possibly with the aid of grants or low-interest loans.

Developers want to know why they should come to Janesville, said Ryan Garcia, the city's economic development coordinator.

With the plan's approval, “we're promising to make some commitment here that will change the downtown,” Garcia said.

The town square is located in an area bounded by River Street, the back of buildings along Main Street and Milwaukee and Court streets. The council voted on Monday to buy a second building within that area.

What might happen in the town square?

“Just about everything,” Garcia said, including day-to-day activities that could include a place for lunch, a concert series, mobile vendors, a Thursday farmers market or street dances.

The area could include “complimentary facilities” built to keep people downtown longer. For instance, residents could leave an event at the Janesville Performing Arts Center and move downtown to a cookout or dance at the town square.

Both River and Water streets are proposed as festival streets, which allow for sidewalk cafes. During bigger events, the streets could be closed to become part of the event—“a place where people spill out and have a lot of fun,” he said. “Then you have people right in the center of your business district.”

The town square aspect is exciting and dynamic, Garcia said.

 “A pedestrian bridge over the river is huge,” Garcia said. “For a long time, we've looked at the separation issue of the river as a divider, not a unifier.  We've tried to make it a unifier, right in the center of town.

Other proposed “big picture” highlights include:

--Redesigning Traxler Park into an island.

The lagoon would link to the river, which would improve water quality because it would act as a natural filter for water flowing down the river. Traxler was originally an island--called Goose Island--so this is a “nod to its history,” Garcia said. The park would retain its current amenities.

Traxler Park would continue south to Centerway. New amenities might include a transient marina so boats could dock for the day. Some of the space also includes mixed use, which could include restaurants and housing.

Garcia said the Traxler piece of the plan would likely be broken into phases and be years in the making because of the more than dozen private properties that remain in the area.

 “The only thing that's really feasible in the near-term is everything south of the railroad tracks—the part we own,” Ryan said. That is the site of the recently demolished Adams & Sons Roofing building.

--Creating a whitewater river course. The idea is gaining momentum and is still in the plan, although it probably won't be included in the first wave of activities. Such a course would allow residents to tube or kayak down the course. Residents have told city staff they want increased access to the river, Garcia said. The course would start at the Centerway Dam and run itself out at Fireman's Park on North Main Street.

“We really have tried to focus on the river as an underutilized asset.”

 The future removal of the parking structure between Milwaukee and Court streets will create the biggest opportunity to allow people access to the river, Garcia said.

Some parking along the river on Wall and River streets would likely remain.

--Converting one-way Milwaukee Street to two-way traffic, which would also allow for more angled parking.

--Identifying mixed-use space. Garcia thinks the best spot is at 20 and 28 W. Milwaukee St. at the corner of Milwaukee and North River streets and just north of the town square.

Possible development could include condos, office, a corporate headquarters or a hotel/ convention center. A recent market analysis showed a need for additional housing downtown, including market-rate condos, workforce housing and upper-end apartments. Housing opportunities are also plentiful between the library and Court Street along Water Street, he said.

--Relocating the senior center. The current building could house a variety of uses and is not a perfect fit for seniors, Garcia said.



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