Community Update – Regional Economic Development Fund, Fall Photos, and Beautification Council

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Election as Vice President of CWED, CWED Board Meeting

Last Thursday, I joined representatives from 7 counties and 10 cities in central and north-central Wisconsin for the Central Wisconsin Economic Development (CWED) Fund’s monthly Board of Directors meeting.  At this meeting, the CWED Fund held its election of officers.  Jeffrey L. Zriny, Marathon County Board Supervisor, was elected President, and I was elected Vice President.CWED Map

A strong regional economy elevates each of our surrounding communities. The CWED Fund, regionalized in 2009, spans a territory reaching from Adams county in the south to Vilas county in the north. The over $12 million fund is in place to serve as an economic tool for Central Wisconsin.  The funds are made available with the objectives of creating new and diverse private sector jobs, growing incomes, and leveraging bank financing- all leading to an expansion of the region’s employment and tax base.  The purpose of the CWED Loan Fund is to partner with traditional financing to fill financing gaps in local markets and to stimulate private sector development.

In a previous Community Update, I gave an overview of the fund as one solution for funding new and expanding business ventures.  The fund provides an excellent opportunity for supporting business growth in the region.  Fulfilling the objectives of the fund will aid in positively impacting the business climate in our region, encouraging the expansion of existing businesses and helping to attract new businesses- all leading to a diverse mix of employment opportunities.  To learn more about the CWED fund, visit this link.  I look forward to working with the newly elected President over the coming year to ensure the continued success of CWED’s fund in promoting economic development in our region.

Board of Regents, Partnership for Thriving Communities

boardofregentsRecently, I had an opportunity to join area leaders, as well as UW system Chancellors and Provosts from around the state as UW-Stevens Point hosted the Board of Regents.  As the first time since 2008 that the board has visited UWSP, it was an opportunity to highlight the campus, and surrounding communities to demonstrate how the 4-year college is a vital and energetic part of our region.

At the meeting, UWSP’s Chancellor, Bernie Patterson shared the University’s strategic plan, titled “A Partnership for Thriving Communities,” with the Board and visitors.  This plan provides a framework through which the University is becoming more engaged with area stakeholders, more responsive to local needs, and more relevant to solving regional problems.  Over the last year, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with representatives from UWSP in their preparation of this plan, to identify ways that the University can aid in advancing learning and quality of life in our communities, and leveraging our area’s precious resources.  A video of the board of regents meeting can be viewed here.

The meeting also included the opportunity for student projects to be showcased to Regents and visitors. I was pleased to see an emphasis on classroom projects that applied learning such as the use of GIS in a sonar survey of river depth above the Stevens Point dam. In this way, I shared the boat landing survey that is underway to understand the usage of the stretch of river in Wisconsin Rapids. It has been said that a second phase of the project could be a hazard identification to foster a safer experience for those looking to utilize the river here.

Submit Fall Photos

Fall Picture

A recent view from my kayak looking south with Belle Island to the right.

With the fall season upon us, one can’t help but notice the changing of colors in our area.  In fact, according to Travel Wisconsin’s Fall Color Report, last week and this week mark peak times for fall color in central Wisconsin.   The colorful landscape of our area presents the perfect opportunity to showcase your photos on our City’s Facebook page, my Twitter or Facebook pages.  I invite you to upload some of your fall photos, and look forward to seeing (and sharing) the beautiful landscape that our area provides this time of year!

Beautification Council Meeting

Earlier this month, I represented our city at the America In Bloom Symposium.  The symposium was a celebration of efforts that communities had achieved in preserving local heritage, enhancing environmental aspects of their spaces, and, of course, beautifying their surroundings.  Our community also received feedback from our visiting judges on successes and potential improvements in the way of an evaluation and recommendation document..

This Thursday, October 23, 2014 at 4:30PM in the 1st Floor Conference Room at City Hall, the Mayor’s Council on Beautification (MCB) will hold its next meeting. Now that we’ve received the AIB judge feedback report and are entering into the fall season, members of the MCB have the opportunity to review the report, discuss alternatives and feasibility of implementation to prioritize new and existing project ideas.  Thursday’s Beautification Council meeting will be an excellent chance to learn about planned projects and voice your ideas for potential ones.  If you have an interest in participating in Thursday’s Beautification Council meeting, feel free to attend the meeting or contact me.  Whether through implementing 4th quarter projects before winter, or planning our 2015 projects, the Mayor’s Council on Beautification is hard at work planning and carrying out projects that help in making Wisconsin Rapids a more welcoming and vibrant place to live and visit.

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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Community Update – Tribune Building, Neighborhood Clean-Up, and Final Alarm Ceremony

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Tribune Building Project

Last month officially wrapped up the facilitated, resident-led meetings for the Tribune Building Project, marking the collective work of over 700 residents and more than 4,400 hours over 10 meetings.  At that meeting, accomplishments were shared, and updates were given to the group for moving forward.

10653348_739279782806657_2300626559641749664_nDevelopments often impact areas beyond the specific parcel. The Tribune Building redevelopment is no exception.  With this site surrounded by vacant and underutilized parking lots both city and non-city owned, the area has much redevelopment potential. Our City’s fathers and past administrations worked to develop a foresight to the future use of downtown property, with plans dating back to the 1990s (1996 Plan, 2007 Plan, 2009 Plan). By way of timing, over the past few years, we’ve seen pieces pulled out of these plans and brought to fruition. There are also steps we can take to ensure additional elements of these plans, invested in and adopted by residents through Council approval, see the light of day.

As we’ve now hit a milestone as a community with the Tribune Building Project, the time has come to bring residents together for another meeting around options and alternatives for future development around the Tribune Building.  The next meeting will be this Tuesday, October 14 at 5:30PM at the Centralia Center.  The meeting will continue the generating of ideas and dialogue that build on previous meetings, but also begins a discussion around future development choices. If you missed last month’s meeting, I highly encourage you to attend Tuesdays, and make your mark on this unique redevelopment on our riverfront.  Cannot make the meeting? I welcome your feedback.

Final Alarm Ceremony and Procession

Last weekend, over 250 residents and visitors gathered at the Wisconsin State Firefighter’s Memorial to 5810612_f1024attend the annual Final Alarm and Roll Call Ceremony.  The event featured a memorial service to honor the firefighters who have died in the line of duty in the State of Wisconsin.  The names of all fallen firefighters listed on the Memorial Wall were read along with ringing of the Memorial Bell for each.  Additionally, two names of firefighters who died in the line of duty over the past year were recognized and added to the 280 names already etched in the memorial wall.  Governor Scott Walker joined Saturday’s event and issued an Executive Order instructing all Wisconsin flags be flown at half-staff in memory of firefighters who died in the line on duty.

In addition to the Final Alarm and Roll Call Ceremony, Saturday evening, a Final Alarm Procession was held to honor firefighters who gave their lives in line-of-duty deaths.  Each year, it’s a tremendous honor for Wisconsin Rapids to be the permanent host of the Wisconsin state memorial.  The Final Alarm Ceremony and Procession are a great opportunity for residents to experience and be reminded of how special it is to us and remember those who have given their lives to keep our communities safe.  A video of the Ceremony, captured by RCCA, can be viewed here.  A video of the procession captured by members of WRPD can be seen here.

Witter Field Planned Changes/Improvements

IMG_7931With the Rafter’s season concluded, City staff have been meeting with representatives from the Wisconsin Rapids Rafter’s organization to plan for structural maintenance and improvements to Witter Field during the off season.  The grandstand is an asset and therefore requires ongoing maintenance. Exposure to the elements necessitates treatment of rust and other issues. As a result, the grandstand will receive some new color. While the cranberry color will remain on the stairs, a darker grey will cover the floor. The benches and ceiling will remain the same.

As the proud home of the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters, we have an IMG_7936interest in investing in Witter Field, as an asset that increasingly plays an important role in our community and with the residents and visitors of Wisconsin Rapids.  The painting of the grandstand is just one of several important investments taking place in the off season to ensure the vibrancy and historic part of our community remains for generations to come.

Ward 1 Fall Cleanup Event

This Saturday, volunteers and members of the Ward 1 Neighborhood Group will get together for Ward 1’s Fall Cleanup Event.  Slated to be a “maintenance event,” Saturday will see volunteers and property owners assist their neighbors with raking, leaf pick-up and general upkeep to properties in the area.

Ward 1 CleanupThe event will begin at 8:00AM and participants should meet at the shelter at the newly renovated St. Lawrence Playground (10th Ave. N. and Fremont St.).  Volunteers are encouraged to bring gloves (if they would like to have them), and a rake if they have one.  For further details or clarification on questions about Saturday’s event, please contact Kathy Rash, Ward 1 Volunteer Coordinator.  I am proud to see the ongoing resident-led work being done to help beautify our neighborhoods.  I plan to be there, and hope to see you Saturday!  

 

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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Community Update – America In Bloom Symposium, Tree Planting Recap and Final Alarm Ceremony

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America in Bloom and Judge Feedback

America in Bloom envisions communities across the country as welcoming and vibrant places to live, work, and play – benefiting from colorful plants and trees; enjoying clean environments; celebrating heritage; and planting pride through volunteerism.

America in Bloom envisions communities across the country as welcoming and vibrant places to live, work, and play – benefiting from colorful plants and trees; enjoying clean environments; celebrating heritage; and planting pride through volunteerism.

As part of our effort to make our city more welcoming to businesses, visitors and residents alike, in 2014 Wisconsin Rapids joined the America In Bloom (AIB) program.  Last July, we hosted two judges for three days to evaluate and assist in helping identify and rank potential image improvement and beautification projects within the City. A look in the mirror of sorts.  After much anticipation by residents and members of the Mayor’s Council on Beautification, last Friday I had the opportunity to meet with our judges to receive their feedback at the America in Bloom Symposium.

The AIB Symposium has three focuses; the first being celebrating communities by learning what they are currently implementing for beautification efforts and best practices associated with them.  These conversations with other communities present at the symposium were very valuable for gaining insight into current and future projects in our City.  With the Mayor’s Council on Beautification planning our 2015 projects through idea generation, discussing similar projects with other communities assists in gaining a better understanding of the resources and potential pitfalls associated with each potential project.

Wisconsin Rapids was asked to present at the symposium as well.  The presentation included an overview of our community and recent beautification efforts.  This was an exciting opportunity for us, and I took the opportunity to highlight initiatives like the flowering basket program, and similar accomplishments (and struggles) we’ve had with our various beautification efforts.  The second focus of the AIB Symposium is that of educational sessions and special programs.  This included panel presentations on involving youth with beautification efforts, the value of public gardens in communities and tree planting strategies for our communities.  Partaking in these sessions and associated conversations proved to be both useful and eye-opening.  At our next Mayor’s Council on Beautification meeting this month, I will be sharing the feedback and recommendations received at these sessions and discussing how the ideas can be utilized in our 2015 project planning.

A final focus of the AIB symposium, and a cornerstone of the AIB program, was meeting with our judges toIMG_0021 receive their impressions, feedback and project recommendations.  Accompanied by this meeting was our receipt of the judge evaluation and recommendation document.  A review of the evaluation and recommendation document shows that our participation in the program has its benefits-it will be an instrumental resource for the Mayor’s Council on Beautification to incorporate ideas into our 2015 planning and beyond.  It was encouraging to see the judge’s overall feedback of 2014 projects such as the flowering basket program, and the planters at City entrances as signs that beautification is beginning to root and spread.  I would share the following excerpt from the judge’s evaluation:

“Wisconsin Rapids is a city with rich heritage and a bright future. The heavily used river and the extensive park system combine to give a strong recreational use to this area. Active community members have begun to take the initiative to revitalize this beautiful setting along the Wisconsin River. Both neighborhood cleanup projects and downtown beautification efforts are well underway. The Mayor’s Council on Beautification is a strong, hard-working group that is making a difference in the community and the economy.  They meet regularly and represent a good cross-section of the city. Residents, business owners, and service organizations are becoming united in their interest and initiatives to make Wisconsin Rapids a more vibrant community.“

Now that we’ve received the AIB report and are entering into the fall season, members of the Mayor’s Council on Beautification have the opportunity to review the report, discuss alternatives and feasibility of implementation and prioritize new and existing project ideas.  October’s Beautification Council meeting will be an excellent chance to learn about planned projects and voice your ideas for potential ones.  If you have an interest in participating in this month’s Beautification Council meeting, feel free to contact me to be added to the communication list.  Whether through implementing 4th quarter projects before winter, or planning our 2015 projects, the Mayor’s Council on Beautification is hard at work planning and carrying out projects that help in making Wisconsin Rapids a welcoming and vibrant place to live and visit.

Tree Planting Event at Legion Park

IMG_0009Last Saturday, Alderperson Scott Kellogg and young residents from the community held a “Tree Planting Event” aimed at planting trees at Legion park, and along the 1st Avenue South Riverbank including areas that previously featured them.  Saturday’s event kicked off what will be a total of 28 street and park trees planted in that area.

Last weekend’s event was not only significant for the City’s efforts to continue its commitment as a Tree City USA, but was also the “seeds” of a Mayor’s Youth Council.  With a goal of IMG_0011generating interest in volunteering and making a difference in our community, we put out the invite to students at both Lincoln and Assumption high schools for volunteers.  I’m excited to report that we had eleven students helping plant trees!

I am proud of the resident-led work being done by the Mayor’s Council on Beautification and volunteers of
all ages in our community!  If you’re interested in participating in future volunteer events with the City, please contact me to be added to the contact list and watch for opportunities announced in future Community Updates.

2014 Final Alarm Ceremony

As the permanent (and proud) host city of the Wisconsin State Firefighter’s Memorial, this Saturday, October 11, 2014, the annual Final Alarm and Roll Call Ceremony will be held.  The event is set to begin at 3:33PM, with a memorial service to honor the firefighters who have died in the line of duty in the State of Wisconsin.  The names of all fallen firefighters listed on the Memorial Wall will be read along with ringing of the Memorial Bell for each.

Events like Saturday’s Final Alarm Ceremony serve as a way to honor and show appreciation for those emergency service providers and responders who have given their lives protecting the lives and property of others.  More information can be found here. If you are looking for a reason to visit the memorial, this is the time! I hope to see you there.

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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Community Update – Our City Viewer goes live! The Code for America Summit, and Tree Planting Event

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Code for America 2014 Summit

CfALast week, our City GIS Specialist, Chris Cantey, and I joined civic technology leaders, city government representatives and innovators from around the world for the annual Code for America (CfA) summit in San Francisco.  The event sought to bring together individuals from around the world- representing various backgrounds and industries- to find transformative solutions to technology challenges in the government sector.  The common thread for the attendees is a shared belief that a government of the people, by the people, can work for the 21st century.  Attendees shared and learned based on a common link of working towards a new vision of local government; civic-focused foundations, investors, businesses, and citizens; and thought-leaders in government as a platform and innovation.  The Summit gave civic leaders from all levels of municipal government the opportunity to come together and discuss their ‘wins’, vision, opportunities, and challenges.

The Summit further reinforced the value of “Open Government”- establishing a system of transparency, public participation and collaboration, based on technology, to strengthen and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government.  Events such as the CfA Summit- by bringing together technology leaders and municipal innovators from all over the country together-  better establish creative solutions to real-world problems cities like ours face on a daily basis.  The Event included valuable sessions on:

1) Data Driven Decisions in Action -  This session looked at strategies adopted in government and brainstormed additional ideas for fostering a data-driven culture within an organization.  “Data-Driven SummitGovernment” is a term that refers to utilizing data both inside government and among citizens, businesses and public services to find solutions to persistent civic problems.  In today’s landscape where over 85% of American adults have internet access and over 55% have a smartphone, citizens expect to find answers to almost any question online and are, in turn, demanding more from government.  Data has long been recognized as a government asset, but last week’s session demonstrated how it can more easily be shared and utilized both within and outside government.  In the longer-term, the concept of “Data-Driven Government” incorporates Open Data and even smart phone apps.  For the more immediate, however, I am proud to announce a much anticipated solution for residents and visitors seeking information on City Services.

Our outward facing GIS website is now live! (in it’s soft launch) – The new City of Wisconsin Rapids GISWRGIS website, called “City Viewer,” can be accessed here (http://gis.wirapids.org/PublicApp/).  I previously spoke of the importance of GIS and data accessibility at my 2014 State of the City Address, and more recently in a Community Update.  GIS, short for Geographic Information System- is the term given to technology used to collect, manage, and distribute information tied to locations by layering on a map-based environment. We’ve all heard the term “a picture is worth a thousand words.”  GIS is a great example of this saying as it combines the strength of visual communication with access to information and analytics.  The application for use within the City of Wisconsin Rapids is significant.  From streets and underground utilities, to playgrounds and parks, all City departments provide services that residents use every day.  GIS can significantly aid in better decision making- often resulting in cost savings and greater understanding by the public, while improving the delivery of services in the City, with better accuracy and transparency in operations.

WRGIS ParksAcross departments, the City depends on data to provide services to the community.  In talking with departments regarding what residents often inquired about, it became clear to me that there were opportunities for disseminating information, available 24-7, to residents to provide answers to frequently asked questions and even planning recreational activities.  Using GIS, residents and visitors could easily pull up a map of City parks to view amenities at each, map out a bike ride or a walk within our City, and even view historical markers or memorials located at points throughout the City.  The possibilities of information we can provide on the public facing GIS application are endless.  Now that City Viewer is public, we are always looking for ways to make the site better so we want to know from you what functionality you’d like integrated.  If you have information that you wish was available online, please contact me or any City department to share your idea.

2) Applying Lean to Government Services -  This session highlighted how government can embrace lean, iterative methodologies to test assumptions, fail fast, and better allocate resources to create a culture of innovation in government.  Headed by representatives from Denver’s Peak Academy- well known names in the area of lean analytics- the session presented a vision and strategy for continuing incorporation of lean in our organization.  This session was eye opening, in the similarities that existed between many cities’ established and successful programs and our own Rapid Improvement initiative. Many of these initiatives have similarities in the way they seek to create a habit of innovation and performance that is compelling enough to encourage deviating from habits of “status quo” that many are used to in our organizations.  Additionally, our City’s Rapid Improvement program has set milestones for our organization that stand out among the Cities participating.  First, we have much to be proud of with the number of employees trained- to date, over 25% of all city employees- in the fundamentals of process improvement.  Second, the Rapid Improvement initiative stood out through the progress that city project teams have had with individual improvement projects.  In just over one year since launch, 8 project teams have been established to work on projects ranging from examining the special assessments process, the efficiency of monthly brush pickup, business inspection process and even the Library’s book check-in/shelving process.

In many ways this progress has and will continue to be inspiring, but I know there is much to learn from more established and experienced municipal programs.  A final aspect of the session focused on training participants in advanced concepts of lean government, and strategies to improve daily municipal operations, from internal processes to outward facing services that residents either request from cities or experience and would like to expedite to decrease the amount of time spent on specific issues.  This part of the session was a fantastic opportunity to learn from some of the country’s leading innovators in lean practices in government on how we can better refine our program and continue to improve our practices.

Events like Code for America’s Summit present a unique opportunity for convening innovators from dozens of local governments and mixing them with technologists, designers, community organizers and entrepreneurs to develop better ways of delivering our services to residents and visitors.  It is through this collaborating that we, including yourself, can develop creative solutions to common problems.  I look forward to sharing and implementing many of the ideas Chris and I have brought back from the summit in the months to come!

Tree Planting Event

Earlier this summer, the Mayor’s Council on Beautification held a tree planting event to commemorate the replant of flowering trees along the river on 1st Avenue South.  In a related initiative, the Council on Beautification felt there was an another opportunity to restore trees and involve youth at the same time.  Now into the fall, a second tree planting event is planned for this Saturday, October 4- this time on the City’s east side, along 1st Street North by Mead Rapids View Park and along the river to Legion Park.

The tree planting event, taking place Saturday, October 4 at 10:30AM, will eventually lead to a total of 28 trees planted in the area.  The event will bring together the Mayor’s Council on Beautification and the beginnings of a Mayor’s Youth Council, planned for launch this fall.  All are invited to help volunteer with the tree planting event.  If you are interested and would like to receive further details related to the event, please contact me.  I am pleased to see youth choosing to get involved in a way that makes our city greener and environmentally friendly.

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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Community Update – Shoe Store, Beautification Updates and Tree Planting Event

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Wisconsin Rapids to Get a Shoe Store

A long awaited and desired retail option by those throughout the greater Wisconsin Rapids area is becoming a reality! On November 20th, Wisconsin Rapids will welcome a new shoe store, Shoe Sensation. In a previous Community Update, I polled readers for their thoughts on what the largest retail gap in Wisconsin Rapids was.  Not surprisingly, one of the identified retail gaps (and matched by feedback I’ve had) was a shoe store.

Shoe Sensation looks to be a great fit for the Wisconsin Rapids area!  A regional chain that focuses on growing in smaller communities, Shoe Sensation aims to provide shoes to the whole family, with typical stores carrying over 10,000 pairs of shoes across a wide range of styles.  For those of us who struggle to find shoes close to home, the addition of Shoe Sensation to our community is welcomed. The store is located at the Crossroads Center, 1000E. Riverview Expressway between Copps and Shopko.

Beautification Update and Tree Planting Event

The Mayor’s Council on Beautification (MCB) held its September meeting last Thursday.  At the meeting, the group discussed, recapped and made plans for several initiatives.

Flowering Baskets – With the first season of the Flowering of Grand Avenue initiative now completed, the IMG_0420group recapped 2014 and began planning next year’s program.  The MCB overwhelmingly affirmed the inaugural year of the flowering basket program’s success.  Overall, the baskets received many compliments, even drawing attention from our America in Bloom Judges who remarked on their presentation, placement and success in increasing the vibrancy of the downtown.

As with any first-year large-scale project, the first year of the flowering basket program was a learning experience for all parties involved.  Over the 2014 season, we learned much about the care and feeding, as well as the importance of flower choice for aesthetics, care and durability to adverse weather.  We will be applying this knowledge to the baskets next year, and the MCB is looking forward to a 2015 expansion of up to 60 baskets in total (38 baskets were placed in 2014)!  If you are interested in supporting 2015’s initiative through financial or volunteer-hour donations, please contact Sue Wesley for more information.  We thank her, supporters (both financial and waterers), the Water Works and Lighting Commission (installing and support of brackets) and Incourage CF (What-If recipient) for making this year a success.

Street Medians – Like the flowering basket program, the Mayor’s Council on Beautification sought to continue its focus of vibrancy and color in noticeable, trafficked areas by removing some of the weed-prone, unattractive medians.  Beginning with a pilot effort with the medians at the intersection of 4th St. N. and Jackson St., the asphalt will be replaced with native plants of a range of colors in an effort to “green” our streetscape.CMM3

Creating a plan for beautifying our City’s medians creates a wonderful, and previously unexplored, opportunity to enhance our area for years to come with a minimal upfront investment.  Working with the City to replace the unattractive material with native, natural landscaping will surely improve the streetscape and provide a softer feel to our higher trafficked areas.  Work on the medians will begin early next month, with hopes to complete the first medians by this fall, weather permitting.  After a successful “pilot implementation”, the MCB has plans to continue work on the Jackson Street medians next year and a plan for others to come.

Tree Planting –  Earlier this summer, the MCB held a tree planting event to commemorate the replant of
flowering trees along the river on 1st Avenue South.  In a related initiative, the Council on Beautification felt there was an opportunity to restore trees and involve youth at the same time.  Now into the fall, a second tree planting event is planned- this time on the City’s east side, along 1st Street North by Mead Rapids meadrapidsView Park and along the river to Legion Park.  This tree planting event, taking place Saturday, October 4 at 10:30AM, will contribute to what will total 28 trees planted in the area.  The tree planting event will focus planting trees at Mead Rapids View Park.  The event will bring together the Mayor’s Council on Beautification and the beginnings of a Mayor’s Youth Council, planned for launch this fall.  All are invited to help volunteer with the tree planting event.  If you are interested and would like to receive further details related to the event, please contact me.  I am pleased to see youth choosing to get involved in a way that makes our city greener and environmentally friendly.

As you can see, even with the fall season having arrived, our City’s beautification efforts are still in bloom.  Whether through implementing 4th quarter projects before winter, or planning our 2015 projects, the Mayor’s Council on Beautification is hard at work planning and carrying out projects that help in making Wisconsin Rapids a welcoming and vibrant place to live and visit.

The intent and focus of the Mayor’s Council on Beautification is to be resident-led, action-oriented in identifying potential projects, working to secure project funding from alternative sources and subsequently score and prioritize projects all the while, making our city a more attractive place for our current and future residents and businesses. After all, businesses invest in communities that invest in themselves and their appearance.  If you’re interested in participating in future meetings, please contact me to be added to the contact list or feel free to attend future meetings.

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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Community Update – Streets & Park Enhancements and Tree Planting Event

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Over the past couple weeks, you may have noticed one of several enhancements being made around the City.  These enhancements are related to a concept I’ve referred to as the 3rd Space – where we spend our time beyond work or home.  Wisconsin Rapids has much to be proud from this perspective- a robust trail system, municipal zoo, a skatepark and over 100 acres of City parks.  What we have, we can further build on to make our City a more attractive place to visitors and residents.  This week’s Community Update highlights some of the recent, and upcoming projects around the City:

New Playground Equipment in Poplar Springs

With existing playground equipment at Poplar Springs Park past its useful life, the Park and Recreation IMG_0574Commission made a decision earlier this summer to proceed with purchasing and installing new playground equipment.  Last week, installation of new playground equipment took place at Poplar Springs park- a marked improvement in equipment compared to what had been previously installed at the park!  With the equipment in place, finishing steps still remain for the area around the perimeter of the equipment, and in a previous Community Update, I mentioned plans to work with a neighborhood volunteer group for some of these finishing elements.

Weather permitting, these steps should be completed in time for our residents to enjoy the equipment this fall.  I will be sure to update everyone on the anticipated completion date (and celebration event) when a date is established.

Bike Lanes

bikelaneOne of the more subtle enhancements over the past few weeks has been the addition of bike lanes to roads around the City.  So far this year, bike lanes have been painted on 1st Street South, Gaynor Ave. (from 25th Ave. to the bike trail) and Baker St. (from 5th to 16th St.).  Part of the complete streets program, new marked trails are proposed along 32nd St., and various ‘shared bike lanes’ are proposed to connect existing bike paths and parks within the City.

As one of many avid bikers myself, I have experienced firsthand, in our City and Cities throughout the country, the various benefits that bike lanes on City’s streets can serve both to motor vehicle drivers and bike riders.  Bike lanes can transform the bicycle riding experience by improving our City’s streetscape, encouraging active and healthy activity, and contribute to a sense of community.  Of course, these lanes are critical for the improved safety of cyclists; they help get bikes and cars out of each others way.  But they also provide significant benefits for the livability of our city- the mobility and health of our residents and support our ongoing pursuit of environmental sustainability.

One of my priorities as Mayor has been to enhance the livability of our community, as well as to work towards providing a coherent and connected bike and trail system.  The planning and development of bicycle lanes are a crucial component of our City’s transportation infrastructure as well as an interconnected bike system within our community and connecting to other communities.  Finally, the timing of our focus on bicycle safety and solutions for an interconnected bicycle system couldn’t be better for the launch of the River Riders bike share program.(click for more info)  Having an interconnected bike lane system will ensure cyclist safety in getting between points and to their destination.  I am pleased our city has acted to improve the safety of those who choose alternative modes of transportation. Signage and a further explanation of the street markings to come.

Beautification Meeting and Tree Planting Event

The next meeting of the Mayor’s Council on Beautification is planned to be held this Thursday, September 18 at 4:30PM, in the first floor conference room in City Hall.  This Thursday’s meeting will include a recap of the flowering basket initiative and planning for future projects to take part in beautifying our City.  One such project is a tree planting event, taking place Saturday, October 4.  Planned to begin at 10:30AM, the tree planting event will include volunteers planting trees on 1st Street, at Mead Rapids View Park.  The event will be a bridge between the Mayor’s Council on Beautification and an upcoming Mayor’s Youth Council, planned for launch this fall.  All are invited to help volunteer with the tree planting event.  If you are interested in participating and would like to receive further details related to the event, please contact me.  Hope to see you there!

The intent and focus of the Mayor’s Council on Beautification is to be resident-led, action-oriented in identifying potential projects, working to secure project funding from alternative sources and subsequently score and prioritize projects all the while, making our city a more attractive place for our current and future residents and businesses. After all, businesses invest in communities that invest in themselves and their appearance.  If you’re interested in participating in future meetings, please contact me to be added to the contact list or feel free to attend future meetings, scheduled to be held the third Thursday of every month at 4:30PM.

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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Community Update – Aquatics Commitment, Safe Routes to School, and Freedom Walk

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Pool Closing and Aquatics Commitment

With Labor Day in the past, cooler “fall-like” weather becoming the norm and school starting, it also marks the poolCity’s seasonal closure of the Mead Municipal Pool.  This season’s pool closing leaves much work and planning for the City to undertake during the pool’s “off-season.”  In a previous Community Update, I outlined the challenges the City faced with this year’s opening; which is also pushing the usable life for a pool of its kind in Wisconsin.  These challenges place the City in a position to explore a long-term, permanent solution for its aquatics needs.

Earlier this year at my State of the City Address, it was reported that the City is exploring how we might find a solution by working with community partners who have an interest in developing, operating and supporting a public option.  We can all agree, we need a sustainable model- one that is more cost effective and one that demonstrates fiscal responsibility to the taxpayer and its contributors. I am proud to report that at the September City Council meeting, our Council unanimously renewed its commitment to support aquatics offerings through an aquatics resolution.  Last month’s announcement by the John E. Alexander YMCA and Riverview Hospital Association allows the City to explore how a collaborative approach to solving our aquatics challenges through partnership on a facility might be a more viable, long-term solution.

In the near future, I will be forming an Ad-Hoc committee to understand the usage of our current pool offering and explore alternatives. This Ad-Hoc committee will consist of Alderpersons, Park & Recreation Commission members and city staff. As this committee moves through the process, expect an opportunity for public involvement.

It is my position that we have a significant opportunity to improve the quality of life through such a project for not only our City, but our region. I commit to continued participation in the dialogue until a solution benefiting all of our residents is reached.

POLL: What was your favorite outdoor activity this summer?

 

School Children Safety: Walking School Bus

Last week marked the start of the 2014/2015 school year for children and young adults in Wisconsin Rapids.  As our City’s young residents excitedly make the adjustment from summer break to return to classes, drivers in our City must also make adjustments- particularly at crossings where speed limits are reduced before and after school.  With each school having hundreds of students coming in by bus, walking or vehicle, exercising caution as a driver is the best way to ensure that students get to and from school safely.

Walking School BusOne way that students who walk to school receive help in arriving to school safely is through the  “Walking School Bus” established by the Safe Routes to School Program.  A walking school bus is a group of children walking to school with adult volunteers. The volunteers have a designated route that has been set by the Safe Routes to School Coordinator.

The Walking School Bus is an excellent opportunity for children within walking distance to arrive at school safely, under adult supervision.  On a broader level, the Walking School Bus program enhances children’s well being, eases traffic congestion near schools and improves community members’ overall quality of life.  The 2014/2015 Walking School Bus will start on Tuesday, September 30th and will run into December, weather permitting.  Routes are run on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings, from 7:30-8:30AM.

I have enjoyed the walks with students on my shifts for the walking school bus and know the volunteers have similar positive experiences!  If you are interested in being a Walking School Bus Volunteer, please contact Beverly Ghiloni at bghiloni@wirapids.org or 715-459-5599.

9-11 Freedom Walk

This Thursday, September 11, 2014, the annual Remembering Freedom Walk is planned to remember the victims of September 11th, and honor troops who continue to fight for our freedom.  The event will begin at 6:00PM, with a short program prior to the walk.  Following the program, all guests and program participants will join in on a two-mile walk which begins at the Firefighter’s Memorial at Ben Hansen Park and continues down the walking trail adjacent to the park.  Prior to the program, the Wisconsin State Firefighter’s Memorial will have an open house from 5:00PM-6:00PM.

As time goes on, events like Thursday’s Freedom Walk serves as a wonderful way to honor those who lost their lives on that fateful day, and show appreciation for the brave heroes who defend and protect our great nation, emergency service providers and responders, law enforcement agencies and fire departments.  More information can be found here.  I hope to see you there.

14th Annual Downtown Grand Affair

The start of cooler weather in Wisconsin this time of year typically marks the transition into fall.  Last Sunday, residents and visitors celebrated the beginning of the fall season through our community’s annual Downtown Grand Affair.  Now in its 14th year, the Downtown Grand Affair spanned from the Centralia Center to Veterans Memorial Park and was packed with live music from two stages, food vendors, arts and crafts and a classic car cruise-in.

The Grand Affair is always an excellent opportunity to draw people to Wisconsin Rapids’ historic downtowngrand affair and display area businesses/activities, while also showcasing our community’s rich history.  To help navigate the historical points in our City, three “Historical Bus Tours” were conducted throughout the day, taking visitors and residents around our City to view historical sites and tell the story of where our community has come from.  Finally, past met present, with a “classic car cruise-in” which lined over 100 cars from Veterans Park down the West Grand Avenue Bridge.  It is always a site to see so many classic cars, hot rods and trucks lined down the streets of our downtown vying for one of several recognition awards!

As always, this year’s Grand Affair had a great turnout and wonderful participation, all coupled with one of the best-weather weekends of the summer.  I look forward to the upcoming fall activities planned for Wisconsin Rapids.  To view upcoming events in our area, please visit the Heart of Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce’s calendar of events, or the Wisconsin Rapids CVB events page.

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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