Community Update: Public Invited to Unveiling of Outdoor Aquatics Center Designs, National Grants Support Arts Projects for Underserved Populations



Public Invited to Unveiling of Witter Field Aquatic Center Designs

On April 6, community members will have another opportunity to view an exciting phase in the ongoing revitalization of Wisconsin Rapids, and lend their voices to our City’s progress. I extend to area residents an invitation to attend the unveiling of conceptual designs for the $8.5-million Wisconsin Rapids Aquatic Center, on Thursday, April 6. This event begins at 7 p.m., at the Performing Arts Center of Wisconsin Rapids, 1801 16th Street South.

Find out more from the Youth Council in this video. RSVP here: 

At that time, civic design consultant MSA Professional Services will present the Concept Master Plan for the Witter Field facility. In addition, members of the Mayor’s Youth Council will share their plans to raise the funds that will help to make the aquatic center a reality. An open house will precede and follow the presentations, along with a question-and-answer session.

The Witter aquatics center is an important project for the future of our community – it is designed to be a multi-experience attraction, drawing visitors from across the region and helping to establish Wisconsin Rapids as a destination of choice. We appreciate the tremendous engagement that community members and the Youth Council have invested in this ambitious undertaking.

Join us on April 6, to learn more, and to provide more input regarding our City’s future.

As we continue along the path to reinvigorating the Wisconsin Rapids area, it is important to keep in mind that redevelopment takes in more than bricks and mortar – we also must continue to replenish our creative spirit.

National Grants Support Arts Projects for Underserved Populations

The National Endowment for the Arts now offers an exciting opportunity for our active local arts community to develop even more cultural assets for residents and visitors.

The Arts Challenge America grant supports projects that extend the reach of the arts to populations limited by geography, ethnicity, economics or disability. Matching grants of $10,000 are available for professional arts programming and for projects that emphasize the potential of the arts in community development. The involvement of experienced artists and arts professionals is essential.

Grants are available for:

  • An arts event or events – festival; exhibition; literary reading; musical, theatrical, or multi-media performance; media screening; broadcast; or lecture – that features one or more guest artists, such as musicians, composers, conductors, actors, directors, dancers, choreographers, curators, visual artists, writers or media artists;
  • Unified promotion of community-wide arts activities and/or the development of cultural tourism products to enhance public engagement with arts and culture in communities, and in cultural districts; and
  • Development of visual arts projects, such as murals, sculptures, multi-media, or environmental art, developed through community involvement in the planning, design or fabrication of the work, with the participation of a professional lead artist.

Because partnerships can be valuable to the success of these projects, applicants are encouraged to consider collaborating with other organizations, both in and outside of the arts, as appropriate. Such relationships can help spread the cost of the required matching funds.

Challenge America artfully works hand-in-glove with our aspiration to become a community in which residents and visitors can come to expect a range of cultural and recreational experiences. I encourage members of our arts community and other interested stakeholders to look into this promising opportunity.

Application deadline for the Challenge America arts grant is Thursday, April 13. To learn more, call 202-682-5700, or visit  

Thanks for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink



Community Update: City Takes Action on Emerald Ash Borer, Need Replacement Trees? Community Tree Sale Now Under Way, JCPenney Store Closure Is a Challenge – and a Call to Arms



City Takes Action on Emerald Ash Borer (EAB)

Last May, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) confirmed the presence of emerald ash borer (EAB) in the City of Wisconsin Rapids. At that time, the DNR placed Wood County and neighboring counties under quarantine, prohibiting the removal and transfer of ash wood products and hardwood firewood to non-quarantine areas.

Emerald Ash Borer

Fortunately, even before the the DNR confirmed the presence of EAB last year, the City had already committed to apply for a DNR matching grant that helped the City prepare a survey of City-owned ash tree stock, along with an urban forestry management plan.

Our survey reveals that Wisconsin Rapids has around 265 “public” ash trees, the vast bulk of which are located along our expressway/boulevard areas. The City has already begun the process of taking down approximately 40 trees rated as being in poor or very poor condition.

We are also evaluating treatment for trees that are still in good or very good condition. Treatment against EAB is generally effective for about two or three years, at which time another treatment can be applied.

Photo by Travis Plowman/WR City Multimedia Specialist – City crews work on cutting down the trees that are infected with Emerald Ash Borer disease along the Expressway in Wisconsin Rapids Wednesday afternoon.

The goals of our efforts include:

  • Delay devastation of current tree stock;
  • Allow time to take down infected trees; and
  • Replant more diverse species of trees.

Emerald ash borer adults lay eggs on the bark of ash trees in mid- to late summer. When the eggs hatch a week or two later, the larvae burrow under the bark for the winter and feed, destroying the tree’s ability to take in nutrients and water. Visible signs include a decline in tree canopy and what looks like bark falling off, essentially the result of woodpeckers attacking the larvae.

The City of Wisconsin Rapids website offers extensive information that enables residents to recognize the symptoms of EAB, help treat a suspected outbreak on their property, and contact agencies and professional arborists to provide assistance. You can find further information and guidance regarding options for your property and businesses by calling the Department of Public Works, at 715-421-8255.

The final report on our urban forestry inventory project will help lead to a management plan that enables us to identify best practices to defend against infestations such as EAB and the best sources to implement these practices. To that end, Public Works Director Joe Terry plans to reach out to the Urban Forestry Department at Mid-State Technical College to partner on a coordinated effort to manage our urban forest.

With City government, State and local education resources, and local citizens working together, we will successfully combat this pestilence.

Need Replacement Trees? Community Tree Sale Now Under Way

Do you need to remove and replace trees damaged by disease or storms … or simply want to spruce up your property or enhance the “look” and “feel” of your neighborhood? Now is the time: The
Mayor’s Council on Beautification has launched its Community Tree Sale.

Money from the sale helps to fund more beautification projects for the city, building upon our natural-resource assets, and improving the quality-of-life experience for residents and visitors alike.

Through April 30, you can order from among four species of six- to eight-foot bare root trees for $65 apiece, with pick-up in early May at the City Garage.

  • Red Jewel Crabapple – Upright, pyramidal shape with single white flowers, followed by bright red one-half-inch persistent fruits; grows to 15’x12’.
  • Royalty Crabapple – Crimson flower with reddish-purple fruit and high-sheen, waxy leaves; grows to 18’x15’.
  • Whitespire Birch – Displays chalk-white bark and a hardy nature; grows to 40’x20’.
  • Wisconsin Weeping Willow – Green or brown pendulous branches with narrow, dark and glossy green leaves; grows to 50’x50’

Order for yourself, or for your community. You can also order in remembrance of a special loved one – memorial plaques are available at additional cost.

For more information, or to place an order, call Sue Winch at 715-213-1747 or e-mail

JCPenney Store Closure Is a Challenge – and a Call to Arms

Last week, our City was confronted with a challenge that will test our vision to re-create our future as a destination of choice in which to live, work and play. This challenge also may jumpstart the creativity and boldness we will need to successfully forge ahead.

J. C. Penney Company announced that its Wisconsin Rapids JCPenney, an anchor of our Downtown Rapids Mall for nearly 40 years, is among 138 such stores nationwide that will be closed. The liquidation process is expected to begin in mid-April, with final resolution expected by the month of June.

Rest assured, the City will do all it can to ensure that affected employees have access to local employment opportunities and family support resources.

At the same time, I and other City leaders are working with Rapids Mall ownership to map out a strategy that will enable our beautiful Downtown area, with all of its natural assets, to provide residents and visitors with unique shopping experiences. These discussions may ultimately lead to a full property redevelopment that changes the face of our Downtown district.

The closing of our local JCPenney store comes some 10 years after the Penney Company initially planned to close the Rapids Mall location. With the support of local Penney store management and civic leaders, we were able to retain this important retail fixture. Unfortunately, the company has been unable to duplicate our local success on a national basis.

This reflects a cultural and lifestyle trend that has seen consumers transition away from regional malls and department stores in favor of speciality retailers and online shopping. The marketplace is changing – and with it, so has our local community … as well as our neighbors: The Marshfield JCPenney store inside the Woodridge Shoppes also will be affected by this corporate action leaving Central Wisconsin without a retail presence following previous closures in Stevens Point and Wausau.

As a community, we have certainly weathered serious storms. But – as with the successful effort to retain the JCPenney store a decade ago – we also have demonstrated our capacity to work together for the benefit of our neighbors today, and for the future of generations to come. This unique and collaborative spirit, embodied in the signs of vitality already in evidence along and near our riverfront, will be essential to our ongoing success.

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink


Community Update: Master Plan for Mead Field Comes into Focus, City Seeks Developer for High-Potential Triangle Area Property, An important community asset, McMillan Library, offers valuable courses



Master Plan for Mead Field Recreational Resources Come into Focus

Photo by Tom Loucks/WR City Multimedia Coordinator – Mayor Zach Vruwink explains concepts of the Mead Complex Master Plan to visitors during Thursday evenings meeting at Mead School

A timeline for ground-breaking and public opening for a splash pad area adjacent to Mead Elementary Charter School, and exciting changes for the future of recreational resources at Mead Field both came into sharper focus last Thursday evening. That’s when the Mead Field Master Plan was revealed to residents who gathered at Mead Elementary School.

Photo by MSA – A concept of the splash pad in the Mead Complex. If you have ideas, please share at

We are thrilled that we will are planning to break ground on the splash pad area beginning in early May, with plans to open to the public in July.

During the gathering on Thursday, representatives from civic design consultant MSA Professional Services presented the proposed Mead Park Field splash park design. The presentation included highlights of design concepts generated by Mead School student leaders, some of whom were on hand for the event.

Photo by Tom Loucks/City of WR Multimedia Coordinator – Students gather around Mayor Zach Vruwink to show their support for the project.

We are grateful to the Legacy Foundation of Central Wisconsin, which has pledged to donate up to $500,000 to construct the splash pad at Mead Field. We deeply appreciate the Foundation’s investment in our City’s future. On a personal level, I look forward to the ongoing enthusiasm and creativity displayed by members of the Mayor’s Youth Council, who will play an important role in community fundraising efforts.

MSA staff also provided an introduction to the Mead Field Master Plan, including locations for the splash pad and ball fields, and portrayed an overall vision for future multi-use recreational capabilities that appeals to the needs of all age groups.

Photo by MSA – Mead Complex Masterplan

Mead Complex Details included:

  • Reconfiguration of the baseball fields to provide better participant access and allow for a central hub to facilitate multi-team tournament play;
  • Two new tennis courts to complement the four already available, development of a trail area.
  • Creation of spaces for visitors who simply want to enjoy a park experience;
  • Construction of an events building that would allow for year-round rentals; and
  • Open-air shelters that could be rented for special events;The presentation was followed by an open house with myself, City Council members and City staff, and MSA personnel, during which attendees could exchange comments and concerns.

On April 6, community members will have another opportunity to become aware and lend their voices to our City’s progress. At that time, MSA will present the Concept Master Plan for our other major project, the $8.5-million Witter Field aquatics center facility. We will provide more details as this significant event draws closer.

Keep in mind that what we have achieved thus far represents important “first steps”; there is much work left to do. But we can be encouraged that we are moving forward toward developing facilities that will put our City on the map as a local and regional destination for recreational fun.

For more photos of the Thursday event click, here, or a video click, here.

City Seeks Developer for High-Potential Triangle Area Property

After years of planning, our City’s revitalization of its historic Waterfront District has already changed the face of the Wisconsin Rapids Downtown area. Combined with renewed confidence resulting in a resurgence of tens of millions of dollars in economic activity ether spent or planned, our City remains poised for growth. Recognizing that important work still remains before the ultimate fulfillment of our goals, we continue to seek partners who will help us further the progress toward rejuvenating our Downtown area.

To that end, Wisconsin Rapids recently issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to redevelop the Triangle Area, located on the block bounded by 1st Street North (west and north), East Jackson Street (south) and Market Street (east). The Triangle serves as the northeast gateway to the Downtown area, overlooking the Wisconsin River and our beautiful public park spaces. It is ideally suited for a mixed-use development, which could include residential, office, retail, restaurant, convenience store/grocery, among other uses.

City conducts housing study to assess current market and potential, here.

To jumpstart this redevelopment project, the City last year purchased the former Spath and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) buildings, along with land on the other side of the block that included the former Labor Temple/Good Time Charlie’s Sports Bar. Since then, City crews have demolished the Spath, USDA and Good Time Charlie’s buildings. After demolition of the Good Time Charlie’s building, the City hired consultant Robert E. Lee and Associates to perform an environmental assessment, which revealed minor environmental issues. They are now completing Phase 2 environmental investigations, partially funded by a $150,000 Site Assessment Grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. Results are expected in a matter of weeks.

With all our recent initiatives and momentum, we are excited to offer this partnership opportunity, and we welcome developers to share with us their visions of sustainable residential, commercial and retail redevelopment.

You can find the Triangle Area Request for Proposal by visiting, or by calling Adam Tegen, Director of Community Development, at 715-421-8225.

An important community asset, McMillan Library, offers valuable courses

Today’s lifelong learners come in a range of ages, and with a variety of interests. For these individuals, McMillan Memorial Library Library  provides a free learning resource designed to transform lives and foster positive changes in our community.

Gale Courses engage learners with more than 350 instructor-led online courses that focus on professional development, technology skills and personal enrichment. These six-week courses are taught by college instructors and experts in the field to ensure high-quality, high-impact educational experiences.

Gale Courses are tied to the Bureau of Labor Statistics fastest-growing occupations and include:

  • Business professional support, including business law, human resources, management, manufacturing and marketing;
  • Computers and technology, from beginner to advanced;
  • Parenting, the arts and hobbies; and
  • Health and wellness.McMillan Library has prepared a list of classes of special interest to business people, job seekers and writers.The great advantage of Gale Courses is that this learning tool is right at your fingertips – you do not need to live in Wisconsin Rapids or Wood County to gain access. To get started on your educational journey, you simply need to have a LINK/McMillan Library card and designate McMillan as your home library.To check out the complete course catalog, or to sign up for a class, go here.

Let the learning begin!

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink


Community Update: Public Invited to Mead Field Splash Pad and Master Plan Presentation



Public Invited to Mead Field Splash Pad and Master Plan Presentation

Wisconsin Rapids area residents are encouraged to be attend the proposed Phase 1 Mead Park Field splash pad design and athletics Master Plan presentation. Representatives from civic design consultant MSA Professional Services will be on hand to share their perspectives and assistance provided throughout the design process. This event takes place on Thursday, March 9, at Mead Elementary School, 241 17th Avenue S., starting at 6 p.m. with a half-hour reception. RSVP via Facebook here.

splashpad_invite_10For me, the splash pad presentation takes on a personal aspect, as it will highlight design concepts generated by Mead School student leaders during a planning session I held with them on February 20 at City Hall. In addition, MSA staff will provide an introduction to the Mead Field Master Plan, including locations for the splash pad and ball fields, and a consideration of the future of athletics at Mead Field.

Afterward, we invite everyone to stay for an open house where we will take your feedback, questions and comments. 

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink