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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