By Neil Johnson -firstname.lastname@example.org - Oct 18, 2018
JANESVILLE - A group of downtown Janesville stakeholders is asking local residents to ante up in ongoing private efforts to revive the riverfront.
ARISEnow, a group that’s spurring a privately-funded revival of downtown alongside the city’s ARISE revitalization strategy, unveiled a $1.5 million “community” funding campaign at a private business lunch Thursday at the Pontiac Convention Center.
The campaign will pay for specialty lighting for three bridges over the Rock River downtown and upgrades to technology and educational spaces at the Janesville Performing Arts Center.
ARISEnow has raised $4.8 million so far for revitalization projects downtown along the Rock River.
The group, which is composed of local business stakeholders, announced a year ago it had a “multiyear” plan to reach $10 million in pledges. Fundraising so far has been “quiet,” but it has tapped some local business leaders and philanthropists with deep pockets, local banker Larry Squire said.
The group has collected at least two separate donations of $1 million earmarked for private projects in the riverfront corridor adjacent to the new town square and festival street, which the city is completing along South River and South Water streets.
Some of those donor dollars so far have helped galvanize several projects, including an interactive, fountain-like water feature, a gateway entrance to the new festival street and a future pedestrian bridge that ARISEnow said will span the Rock River between the bridges at Milwaukee and Court streets.
Meanwhile, the city has committed to a more than $40 million infusion of public spending on infrastructure and streetscaping projects downtown, some through the ARISE strategy.
The new fundraising push announced Thursday has a more general target: It’s aimed at the city’s 63,000 populace.
Squire, who leads ARISEnow’s fundraising committee, made the campaign announcement Thursday as he hoisted a T-shirt that posed the question “Are you in?” to the 380 or so members of the local business community.
Squire told them that downtown Janesville’s nascent revival is “ready to rock and roll.”
He said people should consider a hotel development, apartment development proposals and a recently announced multimillion-dollar Blackhawk Community Credit Union development—plus new events such as this summer’s downtown bicycle race—as signs that the city’s core has reached a turning point.
Those signs of activity occur even as major infrastructure work rolls out, including a months-long bridge replacement on Milwaukee Street and a complete reworking of West Milwaukee Street in 2021.
“We are at a spot that I’ve never seen in the years I’ve been here. We are so fortunate to be at this spot—and ready to rock and roll,” he said.
ARISEnow leaders said Thursday that the $1.5 million goal would fuel two major projects:
The first is a $1 million project involving installation of interactive LED lighting along the Milwaukee and Court street bridges and on the future pedestrian bridge.
Under conceptual plans shown in a short video, each bridge would have up to 500 high-efficiency LED lights along its base that could be programmed with different colors and actions. The group says the lighting project, called “Light up the Rock,” would help make the Rock River a nighttime focal point.
Other work linked to that project could include an interactive electronic kiosk and a donor wall that ARISEnow officials said would have a scrolling screen naming everyone who helped fund the effort.
The second project is a $500,000 plan to add an educational outreach center to the west end of the Janesville Performing Arts Center and to replace technology used in JPAC’s main auditorium and stage.
Some of the operating systems for lighting and other technical equipment are 15 to 20 years old and use computerized systems that have been obsolete for years, JPAC Executive Director Nathan Burkart said.
Burkart said JPAC last year saw almost double the number of users compared to a few years ago, including more children and teens who attend theater classes. He said the arts center could begin some upgrades in coming months, depending on how donors respond to the campaign.
JPAC is on the south end of downtown, but city officials and business leaders consider it a linchpin in the ARISE strategy, which ties together the downtown riverfront with a network of walking paths.
Under plans unveiled Thursday, the new fundraising effort will tap residents for smaller donations, as opposed to the large ARISEnow donations administered through the Forward Foundation, a nonprofit funding arm of Forward Janesville.
JoLynn Burden, ARISEnow director of development and community engagement, said the campaign is geared toward anyone who might make a five-year commitment or even a one-time donation of $50 or $100 to see upgrades to the downtown.
“This is a chance for 63,000 people that live in this community to all be a part of building a center of downtown for our families in decades to come,” she said.