The city's long-planned strategy to revitalize Janesville's downtown, ARISE, is officially on the rise.
On Monday, the Janesville City Council voted unanimously to approve the 200-page Rock Renaissance Are Redevelopment and implementation Strategy - better known as the ARISE - downtown and riverfront re-development plan.
City Council members and local stakeholders applauded the yearlong effort by the city, an ad hoc committee and consultant SAA Design to bring the grant-funded plan to completion.
The plan is intended initially to spur public-private development of a Town Square downtown that would link the ease and west sides of the Rock River with open park and event spaces.
Later Phases of the plan would branch out in a series of open space and real estate improvements designed to link downtown with Traxler Park and areas south.
And while it's not clear how long it could take for rising a tide of public and private investment to sweep in and show marked changes downtown, the city made a few first steps Monday.
First, the council's approval attaches the ARISE plan to the city's own comprehensive project plan. Second, the approval sets in motion work on a project the city views as ground zero: the removal of the 50- year-old parking plaza that spans the river between Milwaukee and Court Streets.
In a report to the council, planning services manager Duane Cherek said the plaza's removal, which is slated in 2016, will mark a "dramatic change in the downtown."
He called the project the "catalyst that will kickstart the downtown revitalization process"
"It's an opportunity that people haven't seen in 50 years," he said. "And it's going to happen."
The Plaza's removal is still pending months of designs, planning and regulatory oversight, not to mention a final price tag and funding sources.
ARISE plans estimate the plaza's removal and shoreline reconstruction could cost at least $2.4 million, but the city has earmarked a potential cost of $4.5 million for the project in its own comprehensive plans.
That cost wouldn't include future public-private plans to develop a Town Square area.
Officials have called the upper-end costs estimate of a plaza removal a "placeholder" for budgeting, and it's not clear how much the final cost would be.
The state Department of Natural Resources has recommended the plaza's removal and the city is now working with Madison consultant Strand and Associates to plan demolition and shoreline restoration, Cherek said.
Cherek told The Gazette it could take the city's public works department up to a year to work with consultants and the DNR before the city would bring those plans to bid and City Manager Mark Freitag said Monday it could take a "year and a half" before the plaza is removed.
That puts the project on pace for work sometime in the later months of 2016.
Meanwhile, the city is working with Strand and Associates to find potential grants that could fund the plaza removal.
Freitag told the councile Monday that the city got word it was not a finalist for $1.2 million in leftover state flood relief funds it had applied for earlier this year to fund the plaza removal.
The plaza project would be done in tandem with other city projects including demolition of the adjacent Plaza Furniture building, 55 S. River Street, and a $3 million resurfacing and streetscape rehab of Main Street, both set this summer.
Business stakeholders lauded the ARISE plan at a publice hearing Monday. Janesville resident Britten Graft said her plan to renovate the second and third floors of the former Rock County Appliance building, 38 S. Main St., and turn it into an event hall hinges on the ARISE plan.
Grafft is reworking the west side of the building to overlook the rive and future Town Square developments there.
The council approved as recommendation to disband the Downtown Revitalization Committee, the ad hoc committee that worked to develop the ARISE plan. Freitag said its dissolution would shave off the red tape and allow the city to work faster on the first phases of the plan, such as removing the parking plaza.
Freitag said he plans on setting up a special project group that would work on the phases of the plan without functioning as a city advisory committee. Freitag has not said who would be a part of the new group, although city sources said it could include members of the Janesville business group, Downtown Development Alliance.
Council members Doug Marklein and Brian Fitzgerald voted against dissolving the ad hoc committee.
Marklein said he believes the committee was put in place to shepherd the ARISE plan and advise the city over potential public and private projects linked to the plan, not just get the plan ready for council approval.
February 22, 2015 by Neil Johnson / Janesville Gazette