Eds Note: With this post we welcome Jim Rosenberg to the Wausaublog, and look forward to many more. Although Jim is very approachable, this is another opportunity to let one of our public officials know what you think, just by using the comment box.
An Off-Season Discussion of the City Square…
By Jim Rosenberg:
With the third meeting of the fourth or fifth incarnation of the city square committee rapidly approaching, I found myself on a teleconference with someone from the Project for Public Spaces in an effort to restart a positive community discussion about this unpolished gem in the midst of downtown Wausau. I’ve had people from PPS to Wausau on several occasions and I’ve also trained with them in Washington, New Orleans and New York.Frustrating as it has been in many ways, I still think that we will eventually be able to break out of the paralysis that has kept our city square from reaching its true potential. I know that we can come up with something functional and visionary that will make a statement about something besides our inability to reach a consensus, our fear of change or our unwillingness to invest in an important asset that can be all that it is today and much more.
When the buildings on the 400 block were razed, it was to take some very distressed real estate out of the picture in downtown Wausau and thereby increase the value of the remaining properties. It worked and it has been a significant component in what has been nothing short of a renaissance of our downtown over the past eight years. The block was open to the prospect of economic development for a time, but it rapidly became something that was regarded as sacrosanct and its future as a public asset is secure.
I’ve had the opportunity to be involved from the controversial acquisition of the buildings by the city until today. My continuing interest has extended into the various activities there. City Pages’ “Concerts on the Square” were the concerts in Stewart Park until they were moved to provide beneficial synergy to downtown. Now, the summer concerts are an institution. Our Main Street and Wausau Area Events organizations have had a wonderful and positive impact on the use of the block with their creativity and hard work.
For those who only go to the 400 block for a concert on the square, Chalkfest, the balloon glow, Wild Wausau, Summer Kickoff, to grab a baguette at the weekly summer market or another programmed event, it can be easy to think that nothing more is needed. Many people do. But the reality is that the block is neither particularly inviting nor interesting when there isn’t such an activity going on, which is most of the time. It looks and feels like a flat, nearly featureless vacant lot with no real character or pleasant ambiance of its own because that is exactly what it is. It is not a place that you would take your out-of-town friends to see or spend time. It’s not a cool place to meet, hang out or have a conversation. It is a blank canvas. We’ve nicely framed it and painted in a background, but we haven’t completed the picture. I’ve visited public squares on four continents since we began work on the 400 block and what we have is a lot of unrealized potential.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a simple view, but it is not reaching for excellence in any way, shape or form. It appeals to those who think about cost to the exclusion of value. What I like to say is “You don’t have to be sick to get better.”
For a dose of antidote to inertia, visit: www.pps.org
After you’ve explored it, feel free to tell me that it’s time to give up because what we’ve done so far is the very best we can ever expect of ourselves and our city square.