Our TownPosted by admin on 3/22/11 • Categorized as Spring 2011
What the Future Holds
Though leaders in Beloit’s revitalization movement are ecstatic about how far downtown has come, no one thinks all of the work is done.
“No city ever finishes,” Arft says. “We’ve come a long way, but we can’t rest on our laurels.” He, for one, wants to see something happen with the former Wagner’s building on Grand Avenue. Once an office supply store, it sits, conspicuously empty, next to the college’s Turtle Creek bookstore. He’s also excited about upcoming infrastructure improvements happening this summer, like repaving the intersection of State Street and Grand Avenue with bricks and expanding the sidewalks. One change will have special meaning to both the city and the college, when an east-side bike path is renamed to honor Steve Gregg.
Downtown housing is another common theme among movers and shakers in the revitalization movement. “Once you have people living in the downtown, you start to anchor those businesses; right now I think we have three regular customers that live downtown,” Gennett says. It’s something both Adams and Bierman are making an effort to achieve; Bierman says the possibility of housing some senior-year students downtown would be an attractive option. For Adams, it would be an obvious mark of the city’s success in reanimating the downtown district.
“You know that you have won when developers want to build housing here, without subsidy, in the city center. Then you know you’ve got it,” Adams says. “We’re not there yet.” He adds that a ballpark—an item at the top of his personal wish list for downtown—and a couple of other things “might be the tipping point.” The city and the college might be perfectly poised to push Beloit over the top, he says, because so much work has been done, and the right leadership is in place.
“The college has been the principal beneficiary of all this development because we’re right smack in the middle of it, and we’ve got 1,250 people who live in it,” says Adams. “Since we’ve been a beneficiary, we’ve got an obligation to provide leadership.”
The key will be keeping up the momentum that has built over the last two decades. “You have to take these small, incremental steps along with big leaps, and you have to dream big, and you have to bring people in to cheer it on,” Braatz says.
The steps taken so far have snowballed. The addition of a canoe/kayak launch along the river downtown recently led to the opening of Paddle and Trail, an outdoor outfitter, along West Grand Ave. In 2008, the Downtown Beloit Farmers Market won a Best Event award from the Wisconsin Main Street Association, and Beloit is currently one of 10 nationwide semifinalists for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Great American Main Street Awards, which will be announced in May.
Braatz believes in a Beloit that is not only better than it was, but that also exceeds everyone’s expectations. It may have been a low point that initially brought community members together to champion the city’s revitalization, but now, she says, people are congregating for happier reasons.
“In Beloit, what I think is really beautiful is that people have dreamt bigger than anyone ever expected,” she says. “Now we’re bringing people together to celebrate.”