No solution yet for renovating river facades
By Scott Bellile
Community members agreed to combine two downtown revitalization groups into one, form subcommittees and continue meeting this summer to tackle the problem of unattractive building facades along the Wolf River.
Forward New London merged with the Connect Communities. Together the groups form what will formally be called “Forward New London, a Connect Communities Group.”
About 25 residents, business owners and city officials attended a dinner meeting at Jolly Roger’s Pizzeria on May 18 to offer direction in beautifying the buildings along North Water Street.
Whereas an effort by Connect Communities last year revolved around installing murals along the river, community members suggested expanding the focus to projects like repainting buildings, centralizing trash collection and hanging banners downtown.
No clear solution was determined during the hour-long meeting. Local business owner Jerry Finch asked what the group’s specific plan is to make the beautification happen.
“Those who are volunteering to do this and go talk to business owners and explain the program, what’s the program?” Finch asked. “You can’t just walk in to a business owner and say, ‘well, we think we’re going to beautify the back of your building. We may have somebody to paint it.’ What do you want to do?”
A subcommittee formed to determine what exactly the plan will be. Members of that planning subcommittee are Finch, Mayor Gary Henke, Waupaca County Economic Development Director Dave Thiel, and Water Street Vintage owner Kelly Rickert.
A second subcommittee will explore the possibility of installing banners downtown.
Other points that were discussed and debated included:
• Implementing central garbage collection in the alley to reduce the number of visible dumpsters and the smell of trash. Henke encouraged community members to appear before the board of public works with a proposal.
• Enlisting volunteer groups and youth to paint the facades for building owners who can’t afford to renovate theirs.
• Concerns about painting the brickwork on some of the buildings.
• Whether murals would be visible to people passing over the bridge on Pearl Street.
• How Forward New London members will answer the buildings owners’ questions of, “What’s in it for me?”
The subcommittees will explore the issues further and bring forth their suggestions to the next Forward New London meeting, scheduled for July 20 at 6 p.m. at Water Street Vintage. The public is invited to provide input.
City Administrator Kent Hager told those in attendance the city will learn in July whether it wins a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources grant that could be a big factor in the riverside beautification.
The city must repair the river wall along the north bank next year because it’s cracking and hasn’t been repaired in 35 years. Engineering estimates put the cost for the work at around $600,000.
The city would use the DNR grant to purchase a $200,000 fishing pier along that wall that would draw more recreational activity along the Wolf River. Without the grant, the city won’t purchase the pier.
Hager assured the crowd he’s optimistic about the chances of landing the grant because he felt the city offered the DNR a strong proposal.
As an example of the community hoping for the pier system, Jolly Roger’s co-owner Shellie Leahy told attendees she’s in the midst of renovating the exteriors of the backs of her four buildings, “phase one” of a renovation project. “Phase two,” installing outdoor dining along the river, will depend on if the city gets the grant. She said she doesn’t want to install new outdoor dining only to have the space impacted by construction down the road.
Tenants living in the riverside buildings asked city officials how trash collection and parking will be affected by the river wall work. Henke and Hager said the alley will be closed in segments, not all at once. They expressed confidence the city will come up with temporary parking options nearby and a plan for trash collection.