Bench installations also planned
By Scott Bellile
In efforts to spruce up New London’s downtown, the city will install six benches along sidewalks and eliminate numerous dumpsters behind riverside businesses.
Three black metal benches will pop up any day now in front of three North Water Street locations: The Quilting Connection, the lot where the former Wolf River Community Theatre stood, and Grand Cinema Theatres (which has two benches now but are falling apart). They’ll go into storage for wintertime and all six benches will come out next spring.
The benches cost the city $4,554 total and will each seat two people.
The reduction in dumpsters won’t occur yet, but the city has agreed to make it happen.
Next year when a construction company replaces the retaining wall along the north bank of the Wolf River, the project engineers will also design two locations for centralized garbage pickup, City Administrator Kent Hager said. One dumpster will be near Taft Park and the other by St. John’s Park.
The projects are downtown revitalization efforts conceived by the citizen group Forward New London. Affiliated with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation Connect Communities program, Forward New London offers the city suggestions to make downtown a better destination.
Forward New London members believe the deteriorating facades and the numerous dumpsters along the north bank make the downtown unattractive from the south bank, which in turn may deter economic development.
The Press Star counted 11 dumpsters along the riverside alley spanning from State Street to St. John’s Place last week.
Members said at an Oct. 19 Forward New London meeting that cutting down to two dumpsters is an important first step in improving the view.
Forward New London will work with Graichen Sanitation to add additional trash pickup days if needed. The group will also determine plans for recycling.
Fence idea scrapped
Forward New London abandoned the idea for a decorative iron fence to hide the facades on the north bank.
“A lot of the restaurants and stuff are against that,” group member Kelly Rickert said. “If they want to have outdoor seating and stuff like that, they don’t want [a fence] to block the river.”
Shellie Leahy, co-owner of Jolly Roger’s Pizzeria, opposed the fence idea for that reason. She plans to implement outdoor seating once the garbage becomes centralized and the alley smells better.
“Even a decorative fence though, it’s not a bad idea,” Leahy said. “It’s an expensive idea, and I don’t know where those funds are going to come from.”
Group members estimated a fence could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Group members want to find a way to convince property owners to apply a fresh coat of paint to the most dilapidated buildings.
“So the people that don’t want to bother, don’t like to work, or they just don’t care, I don’t even have a clue on how you deal with that,” Forward New London Chairwoman Rita Thiel said later. “I mean you can’t make them do it, can you?”
Hager said laws would backfire because nobody likes the city telling them what to do with their property. He encouraged “gentle persuasion.”
Leahy, who spent three weeks painting her four buildings with husband this year as part of the revitalization effort, admitted it’s laborious.
“It’s either very time-consuming for you yourself to get out and paint your building, or … to actually pay somebody who does that for a living to do it, that makes it costly,” Leahy said. “So either way you’re looking at it, you’re talking about cost.
“Now it’s your building and you should want to do that, I get that, but we’ve been talking about this for years and we have some people down there that just, they don’t care.”
No solution was determined. Ken Roberts suggested soliciting estimates from a professional painter in hopes property owners would find the cost to hire reasonable.
“The paint’s cheap, but it’s just the time,” Ken Roberts said. “And to ask business owners that are actively in their business to take time out of their business to paint, that’s unproductive to keep their business. You should be focusing on your business.”
The city continues to run a building improvement match program that funds half of expenses up to $4,000.
Leahy told Forward New London to ponder up a solution over wintertime, when nobody can paint anyway.
No word on river wall grant
The city hasn’t heard whether it landed a $200,000 Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources grant to rebuild the north riverbank’s retaining wall. The wall is crumbling and 10 years overdue for repair.
No matter what, the city will restore it as early as next year. But with the grant, the city would be able to additionally afford a pier, which would bring in more boaters and fishermen.
Forward New London members said they should decorate the new river wall with string lights and planters as another way to enhance the look of the riverbank.
The city will update Forward New London on the grant application in January. Hager remains optimistic.