Part III: 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.
Why not develop the space into a commercial, taxable property?
Angell said that the News-Herald building had been for sale for several years. He noted that it had significant maintenance needs, and interested developers were not offering close to the asking price.
The common council eventually decided to purchase the News-Herald property, tear down the building, and attempt to attract parties to develop the space, Angell said. He said that “a number of businesses or developers” approached the city with interest in the site, but ultimately none found it as the right fit.
Can the Marshfield area support a renewed downtown and new development at the mall?
With excitement over Kohl’s interest in the Marshfield Mall, the question arises as to whether or not Marshfield can sufficiently support both the mall and the downtown.
“Kohl’s has got a different format that they’re looking at for these smaller stores, which is what we’ll be having out at the mall,” Meyer said. “Will that take some people from the downtown? Certainly, but I think we are large enough to support both areas.”
Is the city listening to citizens’ concerns and objections to this project?
“It’s ironic that most of the people who make the negative comments that I’ve read on social media never show up at a government meeting. They never call me. They never email me. They never call or email an alderman. They’ll make the comment, but that’s where it ends,” Meyer said. “(You’ve) got to reach out. (You’ve) got to come and talk to us.”
Meyer encouraged citizens to come to city meetings where the community square project will be discussed and to speak during the public comment period. Meyer noted that the community square project is “still not a done deal,” adding that the city does not yet know if the $900,000 in private funds can be raised to fuel the project.
“Nothing is ever a done deal. I have seen the common council change course on things many times in the eight years I’ve been mayor because of comments made at council meetings by residents who took the time to come or send an email or send a letter,” Meyer said. “What I generally hear when I hear somebody saying, ‘They don’t listen to us,’ is that, ‘They’re not listening to me,’ and that’s different. We have 20,000 voices in this community. They’re not all the same. Nothing is ever done in a vacuum. We do listen, but we listen to everybody.”
Meyer acknowledged that the city has not done enough in communicating how independent projects like the library, Second Street, the Façade Improvement Program, and the proposed community square fit into a singular vision of what downtown Marshfield could be.
The community square project will be a standing item on the Economic Development Board’s meeting agenda. Angell said that “once fundraising reaches certain levels,” the plans for the square would be able to progress, more detailed renderings could be completed, and the common council will have the chance to review and take action as to whether or not to go forward with the project.
Angell said it could take several months or even a year to raise enough private funds and get to a point where the council to take final action on the matter.