City presents downtown vision plan
Tuesday evening, the Merrill Common Council and the city Redevelopment Authority convened along with approximately 60 community members, for a special joint meeting for a presentation of the “City of Merrill Downtown Vision Plan.”
Presenting the plan was Merrill native Mary Rajek of Madison-based Redevelopment Resources.
Rajek emphasized the plan is strictly a vision for the downtown area and what it could become at some point, rather than a re-development plan.
She further added key highlights of the downtown area and its value to the city, including the taxable value of the downtown area amounting to 93% of that of the new Walmart Supercenter and the downtown tax base and job creation equaling more than the city’s three main manufacturers.
Rajek discussed a meeting attended by 30 downtown business owners in January who unanimously agreed “the downtown area is not currently reaching its full potential.”
Other feedback from the meeting included comments such as: “We need to make it more charming, so it can be an attraction in and of itself;” “Buildings need façade work,” and
“I see it as ripe, with untapped potential.”
Other key aspects of Rajek’s presentation included a traffic study of the intersection of East Main and Stuyvesant Street, indicating an average of over 13,000 vehicles per day. The intersection has been recognized as the busiest intersection in the city and one of the busiest in the area.
“That’s exciting!” Rajek added. “That means we have a traffic area that rivals some of the busiest in Wausau.”
Suggested modifications in the study include the addition of angle parking, new and modern lighting, new signage advertising and introducing the downtown areas and commercial rehabilitation; an item Rajek appeared to place a high emphasis on.
As defined in the plan, commercial rehabilitation would encourage the city to partner with building owners in making an effort to improve the image and appeal of the downtown area and aim to restore buildings as close as possible to their original style and character.
“The major emphasis of our vision is to build up our tax base,” stated Mayor Bill Bialecki.
“Unfortunately, over the last 30-40 years, properties generating tax base have been allowed to deteriorate and no effort was made to replace them such as Anson-Gilkey and Page Milk.
I know there is a lot of talk out there, but we’re not trying to knock everything down! We want to save as much as we can!”
As an example, Bialecki cited several properties which have been or are being rehabilitated, including the former vocational school on the city’s west side, which was initially set to be razed.
“A local citizen asked for us to reconsider and we did. And boy I tell you now I’m glad we did! She has masons at work over there now working on the roof and she is working on replacing windows and doors which should be done by next winter.”
During discussion, 3rd district alderman Ryan Schwartzman requested for permission for community members to speak, acknowledging the large audience in attendance.
“We have two dark clouds in the room that I feel should be addressed,” Schwartzman stated, referencing rumors of two area businesses being affected by the plan; B&D Motors and Trophy Bar.
Photographs of the businesses appeared in a packet distributed to community members, and were displayed along with text discussing “blight.”
“I feel business owners should be allowed the opportunity to have their questions answered,” Schwartzman added.
Permission was granted and following conversation with owners of the properties, Bialecki openly apologized for the publication of the photos.
“They never should have been used in that context,” the mayor said. “We could have used better pictures and I am very sorry for that folks. I am truly sorry.”
Bialecki and Redevelopment Authority member Amanda Kostman assured audience members the city has no interest in the relocation or condemnation of B&D Motors or Trophy Bar, and do not foresee any future interest in such, if the properties continue to be maintained as well as they are at the current time.”