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Waupun pursues master downtown plan: Survey results to guide future improvements

September 24, 2018

Randa Strook of Roadside Relics is shown enjoying a book in a downtown Waupun park. The fiberglass pots and benches are one of the items addressed in a survey seeking opinions about the needs and aesthetics of the downtown area. That survey will lead to a long range plan for downtown improvements.

WAUPUN — The opinions of Waupun residents and business owners are many and varied regarding the look of a revitalized downtown. The results from an online “opinions and preference” survey, presented to city residents in July, are leading to a master plan for the downtown and what it should look like in the future.

As in many area cities, designs for downtown are nothing new. With Waupun’s progressive vision, however, it became more and more apparent that making it coherent was an important goal, and considering local opinions was an essential ingredient for success.

More than 200 people and businesses responded to the survey. It was promoted using social media and old-fashioned fliers, seeking as many community members’ opinions as possible. A paper form was distributed for those less tech-savvy.

The survey gathered information about what residents think needs to be improved and gave them examples to chose from.

“We want to have one cohesive plan that looks put together,” said City Administrator/Director of Economic Development Kathy Schlieve. “We don’t want to have just random improvements. We want the improvements that we make to contribute to a bigger picture — making them all fit together.”

Some years ago, the city installed pink fiberglass benches, pots and trash containers emblazoned with a silhouette of the renowned “End of the Trail” sculpture. That bronze statue — a full-sized bronze casting of the artist’s plaster original — was brought to the city in the early 1900s by industrialist and artist Clarence Shaler.

Over time, some of the pots were found to be too large to fit on sidewalks and they were moved to more open spaces. Volunteers and city crews made valiant efforts to keep them planted and maintained, but the results were inconsistent. Those features have weathered over the years, and replacing them may be part of the future plan, or they may be repurposed.

“In the survey, several options were presented and the existing benches did not place highly in the list of preferred choices,” Schlieve said.

There are also issues related to missing components, such as trash can covers that have been lost or damaged over time.

“We don’t want to address one issue, such as pots, and then have nothing match,” Schlieve said. “We want our downtown to appear appealing, but not to complete it in a year. It will all be part of a grander plan. It’s a phased approach to planned development.”

The idea of planting trees in areas where they can thrive — not surrounded by concrete — was also favorably endorsed.

Core themes that came from the survey include a conclusion that there is plenty of parking downtown, despite the strongly held belief that there is not. The lack of a public gathering space – such as a town square — is also a concern.

Pedestrian friendliness is a challenge with the heavy traffic of a major highway (Wisconsin 49) bisecting the city.

“Main Street is fairly wide, but it has been recently improved, so we don’t want to tear that up. But there are ways we can improve it by installing more greenery in places where it makes sense,” Schlieve said.

According to the survey, signage needs to be improved to help visitors locate city parks and landmarks. Respondents want more restaurants as well.

Of course, there were respondents who oppose downtown beautification, indicating that money should be spent on roads and other infrastructure.

“Many of them believe, however, that the downtown is the hub of the city’s economic activity and it needs to look like it for the community to be healthy and growing,” Schlieve said. “So many people have asked me why the revitalization of downtown is important, and it is because of that fact. It’s the center of commerce — the heart of the community — and how it looks matters to how people see the community. We will continue to work on that no matter what.

“I think the result of this will be a long-term vision, with some very practical implementation pieces up front. I think there are simple things that we can do — and should be doing. A little bit of dreaming and hopefully a lot of practical stuff — that’s what I look for in a good plan.”

Waupun is addressing the issues through its Community Development Authority, its Downtown Business Improvement District (BID) and its City Council. MSA, a local engineering firm, is facilitating the process and will document a plan for the city to pursue.

“I think the result of this will be a long-term vision, with some very practical implementation pieces up front. I think there are simple things that we can do — and should be doing. A little bit of dreaming and hopefully a lot of practical stuff — that’s what I look for in a good plan.” <&textAlign: right>Kathy Schlieve, Waupun City Administrator/Director of Economic Development

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