Part II: Dissecting the community square project
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.
Last night Hub City Times published part one of our series on the community square. The following is part two in the three-part series.
Why not invest in or adapt Columbia Park?
Part of the issue in addressing Columbia Park, at least in relation to the community square idea, is that it lies outside of the city’s downtown TIF district. (Editor’s note: Part one of the series details TIF or tax incremental financing.) The $200,000 in city funds set aside for the community square could not be used to improve Columbia Park.
Meyer said he also believes that Columbia Park is too cut off from the downtown, despite being just a few blocks from the proposed community square.
“The biggest challenge is that it’s across the railroad tracks and across Veteran’s Parkway (from the core downtown area). It’s fundamentally in a different part of town, even though that may seem a little odd that it’s only three or four blocks away. … It is an obstacle when you have a four-lane highway and a railroad tracks bisecting that space,” Meyer said.
Why not work on bringing new stores, restaurants, and housing downtown?
Angell said that what the city can do is pursue projects such as the community square and hope they indirectly bring in new businesses to the downtown.
“We hear the comment of, ‘There aren’t a lot of restaurants down there. Why are you building this (square) with outdoor dining? There’s no restaurants.’ Well, restaurants look for the environment, and right now we don’t have the environment that allows for people to walk in, grab a sandwich, … and go sit outside and enjoy the nice summer days,” Angell said.
Establishing such an environment with a project like the community square, Angell said, could encourage businesses to explore coming to downtown Marshfield. Meyer noted that the downtown business community has favored the project, including backing from Main Street Marshfield.
What about the parking?
Currently the Burlington lot has 50 parking stalls, and the gravel lot to the south affords parking as well. The proposed community square would replace those spaces with a total of 38 parking stalls.
“The gravel space has never been a parking lot. That was really a result of having the building torn down, prepping the site. And if it was developed into a building, a taxable building, that would be gone as well, so we really focus on just the Burlington lot,” Meyer said.
Meyer acknowledged that the community square proposal would reduce parking at that site but said that overall there is ample parking in the greater downtown area, noting that the Board of Public Works recently approved an acquisition of property that will add 30 parking stalls to the Omaha lot south of the Kitchen Table.
Part of the tension with downtown development stems from some shoppers wishing to park directly in front of the store they are visiting versus the city’s goal to make the downtown a place where people enjoy walking.
“The downtown needs to be a destination,” Meyer said. He added that about 250,000 “bodies” come through the public library’s doors on an annual basis, and by making changes like the Second Street corridor or the community square, the city may be able to capture some of that traffic and redirect it to other portions of downtown.
Meyer added that a major challenge in creating a pedestrian friendly downtown is the four-lane Central Avenue running through its center.
Why not leave the Burlington lot intact and just make the former News-Herald site a park?
Angell said that when the Economic Development Board first began looking at this project, board members found that using only the former News-Herald lot would not allow enough space to realize the full potential of the square.
“Just doing the News-Herald site was not enough in their eyes to create a programmable space, a space where you could have events, … (for example a) farmer’s market, … Hub City Days,” Angell said. “As the board said in several discussions, ‘We don’t want to just put down green grass and a couple of picnic tables. We need to be able to do more with this space to encourage people to come and utilize that space.’”
(Look for the final installment of Hub City Times’ series on the community square project Thursday night.)