Mayor feels 51 corridor should be focus of city’s development efforts

While not against the proposed redevelopment of the riverfront district on principle, Merrill Mayor Bill Bialecki thinks the residents of the city and surrounding townships would be better served by concentrating on the plans to attract businesses to the area along the US 51 corridor.

In a recent interview, Bialecki said that what the Merrill area needs first is more industry and jobs, which would help the local economy pull out of the recession faster. While the city has a lot of vacant manufacturing buildings that could be used as a lure to some firms, attracting companies with non-manufacturing jobs to the area along the highway is also doable in the near term. He said there are also blighted buildings in the city’s downtown that could be rehabilitated to attact businesses.

“What this area needs right now is more jobs,” Bialecki said. “We should be focusing our energy on attracting jobs to the area.”

Bialecki said that while the concept of the riverfront project is attractive on the face, it would take years, if not decades, to accomplish, which is something some supporters of the plan fail to realize.

“We are known as the City of Parks, yet this would be just one more park we can’t afford to maintain,” Bialecki said. “Highway 51 should be our priority right now, along with revitalizing our downtown, both east and west sides.”

He said soil contamination in the area is still a big unknown in the riverfront area. Even if the city can obtain easements for all of property needed to do the project, the city would assume at least partial liability for cleaning up the contaminated soil.

Bialecki said he also realizes while the project was designed for the city to serve as a facilitator in the project, helping private developers and landowners apply for and receive grants to revitalize the area, there is just so much the city staff can do.

“We have so much to facilitate right now with so little city staff,” Bialecki said. “How much time is the city staff going to be able to put into this?”

Also, the plan calls for making the river a central part of the parkway, not taking into account that the stretch of the Wisconsin River below the dam is not suitable for boat or canoe use and there is little chance the Army Corp of Engineers would approve dredging.

He said since the project has already been approved by the Common Council and has incorporated it into the city’s Comprehensive Plan, if a developer was to approach the city with a suitable project for

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