Part I: Dissecting the community square
City leaders detail the project and respond to common objections
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — Like the Second Street corridor project before it, the proposal to develop a community square in downtown Marshfield has attracted significant attention, which has mostly manifested as a debate on social media. Hub City Times recently sat down with Mayor Chris Meyer, the city’s Director of Development Services Jason Angell, and Director of Public Works Dan Knoeck to discuss the details of the project and its most common points of contention.
Where we are now?
The Marshfield Common Council approved the basic framework of the community square project at a meeting on Jan. 26 by a vote of 8-2. As proposed by the Economic Development Board (EDB), the square would occupy a 54,000-square-foot area that currently consists of the Burlington municipal parking lot and a gravel lot once occupied by the Marshfield News-Herald building.
The square would be a community gathering space intended to bring more foot traffic to the downtown area. Features planned for the square include a splash pad plaza, which in the winter could be frozen and made into an ice skating rink; outdoor dining areas; a stage for performances; and a large lawn space for recreational activities.
The estimated cost of the park, based on initial projections from landscape architect Randy Lueth, is about $1.3 million. Of that, $900,000 would be privately raised, $200,000 would come from the city, and the EDB would put in the remaining $200,000.
The EDB is funded by utility dividend payments from Marshfield Utilities, and the money is required to be used for economic development purposes.
The city’s $200,000 would come from tax incremental financing (TIF). In TIF the city borrows against anticipated new tax revenues based on what it believes will be elevated property values realized through improvements to an area, in this case the downtown. Money generated through TIF must be allocated back into that same district.
The TIF district for downtown, in which the proposed community square resides, runs north and south from Cleveland Street to Ninth Street. East and west is less exact as the TIF district widens and narrows at different points.
Why not fix the roads instead of building a park?
Because of limitations in how TIF money can be used, the city could only spend the $200,000 currently tabbed for the community square to fix the roads within the downtown TIF district. When asked, even with those limitations, why not use the city’s $200,000 on streets in the downtown TIF district, Knoeck said that those roads were in good shape.
“The core downtown (road system) has been improved (when you) think about Chestnut and Maple, Central Avenue, the side streets, and the alleys,” Knoeck said. “The one deficiency that I can think of right now is North Central Avenue as you get from Arnold Street to Cleveland, which is still in the TIF district.”
However, Knoeck noted that the unimproved portion of North Central Avenue in the TIF district is also State Trunk Highway 97, which Knoeck said the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) is planning on resurfacing in 2018 or 2019.
“That’ll be 100 percent DOT funded,” Knoeck said. “That’s why the TIF funding hasn’t been used there.”
(Look for part two of our series on the community square tomorrow night.)