Residents urge greater priority in downtown redevelopment
By CHUCK CLEMENT, Staff Reporter
Madison residents tend to agree that the city's core downtown area isn't living up to its potential as a hub for business and social activities in the community; however, different ideas exist on how to make changes for the better.|
A group of local residents offered suggestions during Monday's city commission meeting concerning downtown redevelopment, and, overall, the commissioners welcomed their input.
However, there was a cooler reception to a proposal that city leaders create a separate, distinct body to work on downtown economic development rather than assigning that task to the Lake Area Improvement Corporation.
The first speakers in the group spoke about what was missing in Madison, ranging from attractions and/or retail shops that would bring people and potential customers to the center of Madison to a coordinated effort that would make the Egan Ave.-area more attractive to visitors.
Eve Fisher told the city commissioners that Madison had several assets that could help economic development such as its neighboring lakes, two golf courses, and other attractions that were available for "people to come and enjoy themselves." Fisher spoke of some communities that had developed that type of personality, such as Hill City in the Black Hills.
Fisher also said that one of her concerns about current plans for redeveloping downtown Madison centered on a lack "of an overarching vision or plan."
Gayle Maberry, a downtown business owner, and resident Shirley Harrington-Moore both said that Madison lacked some businesses and beneficial attractions that could generate economic activity in the community.
Dean Kooiker, another resident, said city leaders hadn't emphasized enough to residents the idea that spending their money in town provided benefits that extended beyond one purchase. Kooiker said the the city needed to "educate the people to spend their money in Madison."
Cory Heidelberger, who had helped arrange the discussion before the commissioners, said that many individuals "seemed to agree that downtown is missing something."
Heidelberger suggested that downtown redevelopment should offer public involvement through a series of meetings in which residents should "not just feel they are participating, but they are participating." He said a more participatory effort could result in "something that somebody won't have to make a sales pitch and overcome objections."
The origin for a large amount of current conversations on downtown redevelopment was a plan presented several months ago by a local steering committee to construct a new thrift store on S. Egan Ave. After the Madison City Commission heard some criticism on the proposal, a decision to provide some city funding for the project was tabled for 30 days. Later, the steering committee asked for a task force that would study downtown economic development.
According to Heidelberger, some Madison residents don't believe that the current groups that have the responsibilities for local economic development, are truly open to general public participation. Heidelberger also offered criticism on how the thrift store plan was developed, saying the work was done "behind closed doors" and the public didn't see the proposal until it was ready for funding.
Ashley Kenneth Allen, another member of the residents' group, also said that the time was right for major downtown improvements and work that would achieve visions and goals. Allen proposed that the city hire an economic development director who would direct more focused efforts on the city's needs.
The residents finished their comments to the city officials, and the commissioners offered feedback on what was discussed.
Commissioner Scott Delzer told the group that he supported the efforts to bring business downtown and the idea of open meetings and surveys to determine a course of action. Commissioner Mike Waldner said good ideas come from participation and results should offer consensus that "everybody's behind the plan and the idea."
Commissioner Dick Ericsson said that he respected the ideas discussed at the city commission meeting.
"I think it's wonderful that this whole thing has engaged conversations," Ericsson said.
However, Ericsson told the group that another economic development body would require a separate budget and organization and its efforts could also divide resources.
Ericsson also told the residents that while they object to how some economic development activity in Madison is performed behind closed doors, keeping work under wraps is the normal course of business.
"Part of the time, they have to act that way," Ericsson said.
He also assured the speakers and other Madison residents that they could use the LAIC and Madison Area Chamber of Commerce as resources to implement downtown redevelopment.
"I just want to tell you that you can be part of the process," Ericsson said.
©Madison Daily Leader 2013
Send us your community news, events, letters to the editor and other suggestions. Now, you can submit birth, wedding and engagement announcements online too!
Copyright © 1995 - 2013 madisonet.com All Rights Reserved.