Citizens help cast a vision for New Richmond's futureWhat will New Richmond’s downtown look like and feel like in the future? That’s the question city officials are trying to answer, with the help of input from area residents and business owners.
By: By Jeff Holmquist, New Richmond News
What will New Richmond’s downtown look like and feel like in the future?
That’s the question city officials are trying to answer, with the help of input from area residents and business owners.
Dubbed the “small area study,” the process for developing a vision for the community’s downtown has been picking up steam since July. On Nov. 12, city officials conducted the second of three “community conversations” to unveil some of their findings and to continue to gather comments and suggestions from people.
A key part of the most recent session was a visual survey. City Engineer and Street Superintendent Dan Koski projected pictures of scenes from area communities on a screen and asked participants to react to what they saw.
The slides showed a variety of items like building designs, landscaping, public art, signage and “traffic calming” designs. Those in attendance were asked if they liked what they saw, and whether they thought the same type of thing would work well in New Richmond.
Koski said the results of the survey will be compiled and the information will be used in the eventual final report.
City Building Inspector Sarah Skinner guided the group through a brief history of the city-owned WeTEC building. The former Doboy office and manufacturing complex is currently used as a business incubator, providing small businesses with low-cost space to help them get established.
The facility currently collects about $6,000 a month in rent from the six businesses located there. The city spends about $50,000 in operational costs a year on the WeTEC complex, Skinner reported.
“It’s not exactly making money right now,” she told the crowd of about 30 local residents.
Part of the ongoing “small area study” focuses on the WeTEC building and its potential uses in the future, Koski said.
Opinions vary greatly as to what the best use is for the property. Koski said some favor keeping the building as it is; others want to see the community get out of the property management business and sell the structure. Still others would like to see the downtown complex redeveloped for a housing-and-retail mix development or for a public library facility.
Other suggestions call for the building to be demolished and converted into a parking lot or public park.
City Administrator Mike Darrow said the final recommendations from the small area study that will be forwarded to the New Richmond City Council will include a suggested plan for the facility.
“The things we don’t see happening there are things like a parking lot,” he said. “The city has an abundance of parking, we just need better signage to let people know where the parking is.”
He said the park idea is another unlikely idea, because there would be significant costs associated with demolishing the building and also with developing and maintaining a park.
It’s still possible that the city could sell the building to a business, or the city could retain ownership of the facility and continue to operate it as is, Darrow commented.
“If we keep it, we have to do a much better job of maintaining the building,” Darrow said of the business incubator program. “It can be revenue generating if you do it right.”
Also as part of the meeting, survey results from the first Community Conversation were shared.
Among the findings were answers to questions such as “Do you think the City of New Richmond should retain ownership of the WeTEC building?” (yes 13, and no 34); “What use would you see in the WeTEC building or at the site?” (mixed use 14, housing 11, similar to existing 9, and parking lot 6); and “Should the city play a financial role in encouraging reinvestment in the downtown area?” (yes 43, no 12).
A summary document concerning the survey is available on the city website. A link from this document is provided below: http://www.newrichmondwi.gov/vertical/sites/%7BEA3859A6-0265-4D3F-A88D-A5D09E74BEA2%7D/uploads/Small_Area_Plan_Update.pdf
For more information about the ongoing study, contact Koski, the project manager, at 715-243-0439, or via email at email@example.com.
Koski said the community meetings and study process have gone well so far. He said city officials have heard nothing but positive comments about the planning effort.
“We seem to have good momentum going for this project,” he said.