Community Update – Hail Damage Response, Urban Alliance, AIB Judges Visit

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Hail Damage and After-Storm Response

Overnight Saturday, much of Wisconsin Rapids was hit with a summer storm that brought with it hail in excess of 2” in size, causing damage to roofs and outside vehicles. Immediately after the storm struck, the City of Wisconsin Rapids initiated response. While we are better accustomed following the devastating effects of the 2007 hail storm, property damage still occurred.

As many residents, myself included, undertake the task of determining and recovering from damage sustained, we are already aware of many out of town companies soliciting your business.  I strongly urge those of you who are contacted to not jump too quickly in agreeing to roof replacements, dent repairs, etc. and to make sure that the business is reputable before agreeing or exchanging money for repairs or replacements.  As with the last storm, the city is requiring out-of-town or transient merchants to be registered with the City to do business here. To view an official city statement from my office on the matter, please visit this link.  Additionally, a brochure on consumer tips for contractor repair can be viewed here.

Urban Alliance Meeting

Last Friday, the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, Urban Alliance held their Summer meeting here in Wisconsin Rapids.  Mayors and city administrators from cities around Wisconsin participated in a tour of the NewPage’s

Mayor Vruwink Speaks at Historic Tax Credits Press Conference. Accompanied by fellow Wisconsin Mayors

Mayor Vruwink Speaks at Historic Tax Credits Press Conference. Accompanied by fellow Wisconsin Mayors

Wisconsin Rapids operations and to share dialogue and perspectives on some of the pressing issues affecting municipalities around the state.  The meeting included a press conference focusing on Governor Walker’s recent decision to partially lift a recent moratorium on the Historic Preservation Tax Credit (Act 62), doubling the tax credit for rehabilitating historic buildings and making Wisconsin’s credit comparable with that of other states around the country.  This is significant because Historic Preservation Tax Credits are often used by communities to revitalize their historic buildings, as they repurpose the buildings while still retaining their historic charm.  The downtowns and historic districts are the cornerstone of communities throughout the country, and their historic preservation and redevelopment is critical to achieving the mission of positive economic growth.

The location for the press conference was significant to the topic discussed.  Taking place at 340 West Grand Avenue, the building, constructed in 1909, was recently sold and includes much potential for redevelopment through a visionary cultivation of redesigned, modern living and retail space.  Lining the walls with ideas was

urbanalliance2the result of multiple open house-style events with the building owner and residents. Generated ideas ranged from a frozen yogurt bar, sushi bar to a spa.  What the retail space will ultimately host has not been determined, but with programs like the Historic Preservation Tax Credits, building owners and investors are able to provide renewed life, energy and vitality to our City’s historic buildings.  You can view news stories on the press conference here and here, or read an article in the Tribune by visiting this link.

America In Bloom Judges Visit

When I first took office, one of the first priorities I had was meeting with local businesses and groups.  At one such meeting, I sat down with bankers to discuss pressing issues they had and to communicate my vision for the City.  Obvious to that discussion was economic development and how the City will approach working with new and existing businesses. However, not long into the conversation, I was asked a very direct question about what I had planned to do about the perceived neglect of our city’s appearance and image.  I knew our city’s image was important to residents because I heard it throughout the campaign but I hadn’t realized the priority it was among members of our business community.  At this meeting and subsequent meetings, I was reminded that bankers, real estate professionals and investors have recognized the need for the city to take an active role in our appearance.  After all, businesses and potential residents locate in communities that invest in themselves and their appearance.

beautificationI understand this goes way beyond the obvious beautification initiatives into areas such as Ordinance Enforcement and zoning requirements. As such, the City instituted an enhanced ordinance enforcement program just a few months ago. Also, earlier this year in an effort to make our City a more inviting and attractive place for our current and future residents and businesses, I announced the formation of the Mayor’s Council on Beautification- a resident led group, action-oriented in identifying and prioritizing potential projects, working to raise funds and to ensure they are followed through on.  One of the first decisions made by the Mayor’s Council on Beautification was to enroll  in the America In Bloom program, with the intent of helping identify and rank potential projects within the City.  Membership also allowed for our community to be evaluated by experts who have visited many similarly sized communities across the nation.  Last week, Wisconsin Rapids was proud to host two judges from the America In Bloom program, who toured our community, and gave an “outsider’s perspective and feedback” to our community’s beautification efforts.

judgevisit1The judge visit included locations that gave our visitors a sense of Wisconsin Rapids’ history- where we have come from, as well as visiting current community projects, to get a sense of where we are headed.  The judge’s toured our robust park and trail system and spent time with local area groups responsible for current beautification efforts in our City; including Master Gardener representatives, members of the flowering basket group, roundabout and planter beautification projects.  They concluded their visit by attending our monthly Beautification Council meeting, where they shared initial feedback/impressions after touring our community.  Their initial feedback included observations of “very strong” impressions from our hanging basket program and the work of the Masterjudgevisit2 Gardeners.  The judges noted that our City’s tree planting efforts appear to be heading in the right direction, and that the Growing Friends Community Garden is a shining example of an inclusive and successful effort.  Finally, the judges shared their observation of our community’s strong sense of history and suggested we create more opportunities to share.  A full, comprehensive written evaluation of our community, with suggestions of potential projects will be sent to us in the coming weeks.  It is important to note that the evaluation is meant to judge cities against their potential, rather than against another community.

judgevisit3The America in Bloom program, with its judge-visit and evaluation, is valuable to our community for a number of reasons.  First, the evaluation and project suggestion component will help with future beautification efforts and the prioritization of dollars allocated to those efforts both through the budget process, as well as grant monies that the Mayor’s Council on Beautification has allocated to projects.  Second, and just a important in my view, is the importance of taking the opportunities like this to ‘look at ourselves in a mirror’, to recognize not only how far we’ve come with our efforts, but receive feedback on improvement.  It is easy to say we are making progress with our efforts of blight reduction, landscaping, and park enhancement but it is more critical to have outsiders visit our City with the purpose of providing feedback.

I am pleased to see the evolving efforts of residents coming together to work toward a common goal, this time in beautifying our city.   If you’re interested in participating in future meetings, please contact me to be added to the list or feel free to attend future meetings, scheduled to be held the third Thursday of every month at 4:30PM. Watch for additional resident-led involvement opportunities in the coming months.

Coffee with the Mayor

This Thursday, July 31, I invite you to join me at Higher Grounds Bakery Cafe, 4231 8th Street South from 8:00-9:00AM for my next coffee session.   All are welcome to join me for all or just part of the time, for breakfast (they have a great bakery) or just coffee, so spread the word to friends and neighbors.

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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Community Update – Urban Alliance, Flowering Basket Celebration & Cran Guy Voting Contest

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Urban Alliance

This Friday, the League of Wisconsin Municipalities will be having their Summer Urban Alliance meeting here in Wisconsin Rapids.  I will be joined by mayors from cities around Wisconsin to tour the NewPage mill and share dialogue and perspectives on some of the pressing issues affecting municipalities around the state.

One area of significance that will be discussed stems with Governor Walker’s recent decision to partially lift a recent moratorium on the Historic Preservation Tax Credit (Act 62).  This act has tremendously impacted municipalities throughout Wisconsin in that by passing Act 62, it doubled the tax credit for rehabilitating historic buildings, and now makes Wisconsin’s credit comparable with that of Minnesota and other states around the country.  This is significant because Historic Preservation Tax Credits are often used by communities to preserve and revitalize their historic buildings.

Cities throughout our state and country have recognized the value in preserving historic buildings.  It has long been understood that beautifying and rehabilitating historic buildings throughout our communities not only helps keep our heritage alive, but also puts money into our economy, assists with job creation and helps promote tourism.  The Historic Preservation Tax Credits have been used for creative projects in communities across Wisconsin, such as Racine, Green Bay and La Crosse, to make marked improvements to buildings in their communities- projects that were considered for years but were not financially feasible until the tax credits became available.

Meetings such as this with the Urban Alliance affords us the opportunity to have conversations with other city leaders on their approaches and to advocate for investment in cities.  I anticipate a productive session this Friday and look forward to showcasing our community to leaders from around Wisconsin.

America in Bloom Judge Visits and Flowering Basket Celebration

Judges from the America in Bloom (AIB) national awards program will be visiting Wisconsin Rapids this week as part of the “evaluation component” of the AIB program.  At one of the first Mayor’s Council on Beautification meetings, the group made the decision to enroll  in the America In Bloom program, with a goal of helping identify and rank potential beautification projects within the City, with the benefit of having our community evaluated by experts who have visited many similarly sized communities across the nation.  There is also an award component of the America in Bloom program, with recognition for outstanding achievement in each of six judging categories (overall impression, heritage preservation, environmental effort, forestry, landscapes, floral displays), as well as an overall recognition of outstanding community involvement.

In all, 33 communities are part in the AIB program this year, with the communities of Ottawa, IL, Arroyo Grande, CA, and Holliston, MA being the communities participating that fall within our population category of 15,001-19,000.

One of the beautification efforts that our visiting judges will undoubtedly see are the hanging flowercelebrate3flower baskets, now placed along West Grand Avenue, and 1st/2nd/Oak Streets.  38 baskets are now placed along these streets and are in full bloom.  With the conclusion of the baskets being installed, it seemed fitting that those who were involved with the initiative take part in a celebration last week.  It was an excellent turnout at Jennings last Wednesday, and was a perfect opportunity to celebrate the project, meet many of the individuals involved with all facets of the program, and learn of future plans with expanding the program.  With perfect weather, attendees also were given a map of all basket locations and had the opportunity to “walk the path” to view each basket and “commemorative plaque.”

The hanging flower baskets are a great example of a community coming together to beautify our City.  Thanks to the Water Works & Lighting Commission for their efforts in hanging the brackets on each post, as well as Wisconsin Rapids City employees for assistance in coordinating the effort, hanging the baskets, and watering.  Finally, a very special thank you to Sue Wesley, watering volunteers, and members of the Mayor’s Council on Beautification for their efforts in making the idea a reality.   If you or someone you know would like to be involved with the project (funding or volunteering time), please call or email my office to be put in contact with the project coordinators.

The next event for the Mayor’s Council on Beautification is planned to be held next  Tuesday, July 22 at 4:30PM, at Incourage Community Foundation, 478 E Grand Ave, Wisconsin Rapids, WI 54494.  This Tuesday’s meeting will include the chance to learn more about future planned projects and take part in beautifying our City.  We 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 locate in communities that invest in themselves and their appearance. Further, I am proud to see another example of resident-led engagement, this time in beautifying our City.  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

Cran Guy Voting Contest

The City of Wisconsin Rapids will soon be ordering a set of summer pole banners.  During cranguycontestBlossom-Fest, you may have seen two new designs featured along our Downtown Streets (Banner 1, Banner 2).  The City joined with the Convention & Visitor’s Bureau to build on those banners, and a number of summertime banners featuring Cran Guy have been proposed.  With the designs nearly completed, there is an opportunity for you, our residents!

To view the present designs and suggest one of your own, visit the post on my Facebook page and comment to suggest a variation of Cran Guy, or LIKE others’ suggestions.  The suggestion with the most “likes” may appear on the next pole banner in our downtown!

Ribbon Cutting and Coffee with the Mayor

highergroundribboncuttingLast Friday, I joined the Heart of Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors at Higher Grounds Bakery Cafe for a ribbon cutting.  Now officially open, its fitting to have my next “Coffee with the Mayor” session at that location.  On Thursday, July 31, I invite you to join me at Higher Grounds Bakery Cafe, 4231 8th Street South at 8:00AM for my next coffee session.   All are welcome to join me for all or just part of the time, for breakfast (they have a great bakery) or just coffee, so spread the word to friends and neighbors.

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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Community Update – Park Upgrades, Boat Landing Usage Study and Flowering Basket Celebration

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Park Upgrades and Boat Landing Usage Survey            

While the first part of summer is behind us, there is still much to look forward to during our remaining warm weather months.  At their last meeting, the Wisconsin Rapids Parks & Recreation Commission committed to upgrades in two City parks, with ongoing discussions of improvements to other parks in the near future.

Poplar SpringsFirst, Poplar Springs Park will see new playground equipment in 2014.  With existing playground equipment past its useful life, the Commission made the decision to purchase and install new playground equipment, (Picture 1, Picture 2).  There are also plans to do finishing work in the area surrounding the playground equipment, with work conducted by a neighborhood volunteer group.  Please contact me if you are interested in participating in the Poplar Springs park work.

Legion Park will also be seeing upgrades in the near future.  Members of the 2014 Heart of Wisconsin Leadership group presented their project to the Parks & Recreation Commission. Their proposal includes installing a stamped concrete pad and electrical outlets to accommodate small events and performances, and installing grills, tables and trash receptacles in the surrounding area to allow for picnics and community gatherings.  The group’s request was inspired by members’ experiences in communities that have similar accommodations.  One such example is in Eau Claire’s Phoenix Park– with its location on the Chippewa River, and hosts similar amenities including performance area, interconnected walking paths and bike trails, as well as natural and passive areas.  The Commission voted to match funds raised by the Leadership Group for the enhancements, with an anticipated install timeline for this fall.  The group is accepting contributions.

Finally, the Parks & Recreation Commission has begun discussing possible improvements to be made to City parks, with the goal of prioritizing future projects.  This process has a planned involvement of City Staff as well as those who use them most- our City residents.  While a formal opportunity will exist in the near future, please feel free to share feedback now!

I first spoke on the need for further investment in our public spaces at my State of the City address last January.  At that time, I spoke of the “3rd Space” concept, referring to 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, skatepark and over 100 acres of City parks.  But it’s what is in our parks that draws people to spend time in them, and we can do more.  Last January, I called for a multi-year investment in our parks, to help make our City a more attractive place for residents and future residents.  More importantly, I noted that to be successful, this process has to involve residents to participate in sharing their ideas.   Public places can be multi-use, public destinations and our parks are ripe for that. It is without doubt, they will create strong economic synergy of the land surrounding them.  More details will follow on public input opportunities for improvements to our parks as methods for input are established..

Understanding baseline usage of our assets will help prepare us for investments in the future. Boatlanding Earlier this year, City Staff and I met with residents who recognized an opportunity exists to improve the public’s access point to our City’s valuable asset- the Wisconsin River- through monitoring the Ben Hanson Park Boat Landing during the summer months.  The project involves area youth, as researchers, to examine who uses the boat landing, what activities people use the river for, where those who use the river come from and the number of people currently using the facilities at the landing.  The idea behind this survey is that current users may have valuable suggestions and ideas for enhancements to the area- this gives them another way to voice their ideas for improvements in our community.  The project is being funded by Incourage Community Foundation through a “What-If Grant” and hopes to be a catalyst to making mindful improvements to public spaces.  I applaud the efforts of these individuals as well as the youth volunteers participating in this project.  If you or someone you know uses the landing, be sure to participate in the survey!

July 4th Fireworks Display 

Last Friday, in continuing a tradition of hosting one of the finest fireworks display in the area, we teen fireworksagain witnessed a spectacular show.  The event went off wonderfully, in large part to the beautifully cooperative weather.  The display would not be possible if not for a combined effort of community and our City Employees.  The Teen Fireworks Committee was able to surpass their $18,000 fundraising goal this year to continue our tradition of hosting the spectacular event, and donations from area businesses and individuals helped ensure that Wisconsin Rapids has one of the best 4th of July fireworks shows in Wisconsin!  If you missed the show, you can watch a video of the display here.

I want to give a special thanks to all City staff who helped make the event a success.  Planning for the fireworks event begins well before July 4, with a group of City Staff and residents working on planning months in advance to ensure the event goes off smoothly.  This is no small task, and I want to thank all those involved from fundraising and planning, to cleanup after the night’s activities.

Flowering Basket Celebration

If you’ve walked Grand Avenue or spent time in Veterans Park, you’vehangingbaskets probably noticed the flowering of Grand Avenue, 1st/2nd Street and Oak Street is in full bloom.  In total, 38 lampposts in the aforementioned downtown areas now have hanging baskets thanks to the support and sponsorship by generous members of the community.

The hanging flower baskets are a great example IMG_0420of a community coming together to beautify our City.  Thanks to the Water Works & Lighting Commission for their efforts in hanging the brackets on each post, as well as Wisconsin Rapids City employees for assistance in coordinating the effort, hanging the baskets, and watering.  Finally a very special thank you to Sue Wesley, watering volunteers, and members of the Mayor’s Council on Beautification for their efforts in making the idea a reality.

Now that the baskets are up, join the group on Wednesday, July 16, 2014 at 5:00PM at Jennings & Co. to celebrate the collective success of the initiative.  Refreshments and snacks will be provided, followed by a self-guided tour of the baskets to view the recognition plaques from each sponsor.  Finally, information will be provided on next year’s plans for the initiative.  I hope to see you there!

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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Community Update – Fireworks, Rapid Improvement and Street Re-Opening

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Rapid Improvement Anniversary            

rapidimprovement all employee
Last Wednesday, I joined City employees for an all-employee Rapid Improvement report-out meeting.  The meeting marked almost exactly one year from the launch of the Rapid Improvement initiative, where we began our training in process improvement.  Since then, I am pleased to note we’ve trained over 25% of all city employees in the fundamentals of process improvement. Our training was done through a partnership with MSTC and funded with assistance from Workforce Advancement Training state grants.

The meeting served as an opportunity for our organization to recognize the progress that city rapidimprovement all employee1
project teams have had with individual improvement projects.  In the year since we launched the initiative, 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.   At the meeting, each team reported-out on their respective project for certification purposes, as well as to inform all employees on the finer details of their project, including the “problem statement,” working team, current state and proposed improvement(s).  Finally, there was a round-table discussion which invited those who have participated in the training to reflect and discuss their training experience.

Since the essence of the Rapid Improvement initiative is continuous improvement, projects will continue to be started and completed with varying degrees of impact. An internal steering team has scored employee-submitted projects to be worked on in the near future. Residents, too, may submit potential improvement projects by contacting me.

In many ways the progress has and will continue to be inspiring. I applaud the Council for their forward thinking approach in approving funding to supplement costs of training not covered by grants, and also thank all employees who approach the training with an open mind and continue to carve time out of schedules to participate in improvement project work.

Every day, we show up for work with the opportunity to not only do our jobs, but also make a significant impact on how we improve processes within our organization. I’m happy with the progress we’ve made thus far in the initiative and look forward to continuing our journey of undertaking meaningful projects to improve our operations and the services we provide to our residents.

Roundabout Opening 

roundabout2Last Thursday, a ribbon cutting was held to formally open the roundabout at 1st Street and Market/Baker Streets. We are very pleased not only to have a new $1.6 million construction project in our community, but also to bring in a solution that gives a safer, more efficient roadway, replacing traffic signals. Safer and more efficient roadways are not only important for residents to get to and from where they are traveling to, but also for businesses. I hope the new street and infrastructure project here will result in additional development near the project.

The landscaping of the roundabout is a project that members of the Mayor’s Council on roundaboutBeautification have been working on. Beyond the beautification elements, we are also pleased to see additional enhancements to Mead Rapids View Park and the introduction of a recreational trail to be enjoyed by enthusiasts of all varieties. Like any new road construction project, it will take some time to get used to, but we are very excited to have one more street for those in the community to safely travel to get from point A to point B.

July 4 Fireworks Display

This Friday, July 4, we celebrate America’s Independence Day.  With that, each year, people from around Wisconsin visit Wisconsin Rapids to view the spectacular fireworks display.  The fireworks display is an excellent example of our community coming together- from area businesses, municipalities, individuals and organizations contributing funds for the display, to the extraordinary effort that our local area Teen Fireworks Committee undertakes each year to secure the funds to ensure that our community continues the tradition of having one of the best 4th of July fireworks shows in Wisconsin!  Find one of the many Teens to make a contribution at the show!

This year’s display is sure to be one of the best yet, so bring your family and friends to the beautiful waterfront of the Wisconsin River to view the show.  The event begins at approximately 9:30PM and may be viewed along most of the riverbank.  The event will also be simulcast on FM 105.5 WRCW and AM 1320 WFHR.  For more details on the event, click here.

Pizza With the Mayor

This Wednesday, July 2 from 5:30-6:30pm, I will be holding my first evening visitation session at the Ridges.  Dubbed “Pizza with the Mayor,” these sessions are intended to be a similar variation to the morning Coffee sessions I’ve been having.  While I plan to rotate Coffee locations and times, at the suggestion of many, evening sessions are being held to accommodate those who would like to meet in a similar fashion to the morning session but cannot make it work with their schedule.  To date, each of the coffee sessions have been terrific, with great questions posed and excellent suggestions made, many of which I have taken back to the office!

Have a safe and enjoyable 4th of July holiday!

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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