City forms economic development team
By Angie Landsverk
The city of Waupaca will now use a team approach for economic development.
This group will be called the Development Review Team and will include City Administrator Henry Veleker, Development Director Brennan Kane, Director of Public Works Justin Berrens and Finance Director Kathy Kasza.
In cases of historic preservation, Scott Christie, the chair of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, will be added to the discussion.
If it involves information technology, Josh Werner, the city’s IT and community media director, will be brought in for it.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a while,” Mayor Brian Smith said when he announced the move at the end of the May 16 common council meeting.
In addition to the team being tasked with economic development efforts, its topics may include some planning and zoning, he said.
Smith talked to Veleker and Kane about moving in this direction.
“It should improve response time for development requests,” the mayor said. “We will be proactive instead of reactive.”
Smith wants to improve the city’s image.
He wants the city to be seen as welcoming, having an open door and doing whatever it can to help others be successful – if it fits into the city’s plan.
Time will be set aside twice a week for the team to discuss economic development in the community.
Veleker will be the team’s lead, and Kane will develop the calendar and agendas.
Smith said Kane will continue to handle development agreements and put together development terms.
“Brennan’s office will continue to take development requests, permits, be the lead for planning and zoning, when it is something that fits within the zoning code,” Smith said.
When there is a need for discussion, the matter will go to the team, so “decisions are not just being made by one person,” he said.
In addition to Veleker leading the team, he will be the person people meet with for economic development, Smith said.
He said the team will also be tasked with making sure the city’s zoning plan fits the city today.
“We have had some controversy in some zoning issues because we have an outdated plan,” Smith said.
Filling buildings on Main and Churchill streets, as well as the former Churny plant, vacant land and the industrial parks will be the priorities, he said.
Smith said if something makes sense for the whole team, as well as the council, the city will want to move forward with it.
Members of the council said it is a good idea, and Smith credited Veleker and Kane for coming up with the details.
When Ald. Dave Peterson questioned how these four staff members will squeeze this additional time into their schedules, Smith said. “This isn’t open for discussion.”
The mayor said he believes one of the most important things the city does is economic development.
Kane said this move will streamline the process “so everyone is at the table at the same time.”
Veleker said it will create efficiencies and improve communication between the departments.
“Think of it as a customer service approach,” Veleker said. “We can get development in front of the departments.”
One of the group’s first tasks will be to come up with a working group to study first-floor residential housing in the downtown district.
“We want people to know that Waupaca is open for business,” the mayor said.
Before Smith announced this new direction for economic development, some downtown business owners expressed their concerns about Main Street.
They did so during the public input portion of the council meeting.
Anita Olsen owns Embellishments on North Main Street.
The business has been located there for 16 years.
Olsen listed the businesses that have come and gone during that time, including Mid-life Cycle, Jonny Salsa, Uptown Pizza, Book World, Passport Travel, Edgewood Arts and Waupaca Tattoo Company.
There are nine empty storefronts on North Main, Olsen said.
She said a number of the current businesses on the street are owned by older people, and she hopes the city looks positively at creating a retail/arts community downtown.
Michele Drake and her husband, Tim, own Lucky Tree on North Main Street.
She is also the chair of the Waupaca, King and In Between retailer’s group.
Drake said a lot of people attended the May 16 council meeting not only to support the project a couple wants to do downtown but to also encourage the city to find ways to bring businesses into Waupaca.
That project involves a request to allow residential housing on a floor other than the second floor.
“We are concerned about the empty buildings,” Drake said. “We hope we can work with the city and council to explore what options we have to make Waupaca as best as we can.”
John Skyrms and his wife, Deb, have lived here the last 12 years.
For more than 20 years, they have owned buildings in historic downtowns, including in Neenah’s district.
He commended the city of Waupaca for its vision of recognizing the need to invest in its downtown.
Skyrms said he is a strong advocate for people of all socioeconomic groups to live in downtowns.
“If you have people willing to invest in your downtown, the community needs to welcome them, support them and encourage them,” he said.