Community Update – Streets & Park Enhancements and Tree Planting Event



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



Social Media, Chickens, and Street Opening



Social Media Policy and Chicken Ordinance            

At last Tuesday’s June City Council meeting, among regular city business, the Council discussed and decided on items related to the use of technology to communicate and the keeping of chickens.

The City Council voted to adopt a Social Media Policy to govern the city’s use of Social Media to communicate.  This policy is of particular significance, as it has been something that my office, with our then Social Media Intern, and City Department Heads have spent many months working on to fit our organization. Second, as a Mayor who prioritizes technology and the role it can play in providing an additional means of communication with constituents, I also recognize the challenges that can come with it, and the need for adopting a policy that uses overall best practices as well as addresses concerns that may exist with introducing an additional medium of communication within the City.  I commend the City Council and City staff for their recognition and approval to adopt modern and expanded ways of reaching and communicating with residents!

Now that the Social Media Policy has passed, our plans are to use social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to provide the public with additional information and foster a conversation about what is happening in the City.  Progress has already begun, with the creation of a City of Wisconsin Rapids Facebook Page, as well as a City of Wisconsin Rapids LinkedIN page.  Additional City departments will soon be communicating on one or both of these mediums, so be sure to visit and “Like” the pages for updates!

City Council also discussed and took the preliminary steps required to adopt a City ordinance that allows City residents living in one and two family homes to raise chickens within City limits.  Since the vote was not unanimous, the ordinance will come back next month to Council for a ‘second reading’ and vote.  If you have any questions or concerns, or just want to learn more about this issue or others, I encourage you to contact the Citizens for a Clean Green and Welcoming Community, who have been coordinating the effort to bring this ordinance to Wisconsin Rapids.

To view this and other recorded City meetings, please visit RCCA’s YouTube channel.

Beautification Update 

treeplanting1Last Thursday, members of the Mayor’s Council on Beautification joined residents from the community in holding a “Flowering Tree Planting Event” aimed at planting flowering crab trees along the Riverbanks in areas that previously featured them.

Previously, “Hopa” trees have had a long history in Wisconsin Rapids.  Last Thursday’s event was not only significant for the City’s efforts to renew its commitment as a Tree City USA, but was also meant to revisit the work started by the late Richard Brazeau, when 4,000 flowering trees were planted in 1965 and the “Hopa” Tree Festival began.  As of late, only a small number of the original “Hopa” trees remain along the river, but events like the one held last week aim to change that- with plans to continue planting the flowering trees in the coming years.  To view an article published in the Daily Tribune covering the event, click here.treeplanting2

I am proud of the resident-led work being done by the Mayor’s Council on Beautification.  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, held the third Thursday of every month at 4:30PM.

United We Can Event

unitedwecan1Last Monday, city management and I had the pleasure of participating in the South Wood County Hunger Coalition’s United We Can- “Strike Out Hunger” event held at Witter Field.   “United We Can” is a contest for a cause, inviting participating groups to compete to build the most creative and visually captivating sculptures out of basic-needs and food items.  The sculptures were on display for attendees of the Rafter’s game that evening and all items used were then distributed to area food programs.  Our City Team pulled together and formed a can sculpture displaying our City Logo.

unitedwecanriverviewIn all, 14 teams participated in this year’s event and over 4,000 items were collected for distribution to the Wisconsin Rapids Family Center, Inc., Rapids Family Backpacks and SWEPS!  Recognition awards were given in several categories including most creative, most nutritious and a community choice category.  The award for “Most Nutritious” went to the Riverview Medical Center Team. “Most Creative” AND “Community Choice” went to the Paper City Savings Team.  Congrats to all the winners.  Our City team already has big ideas for next year!

The South Wood County Hunger Coalition is an initiative of the United Way of Inner Wisconsinunitedwecanpapercities.  The coalition consists of local food providers, community programs and community members who are concerned about hunger issues.  The coalition works together towards a common goal- fighting hunger in our community.  The Coalition has working committees in the areas of healthy foods access, outreach, advocacy and education, and food acquisition and distribution.  Visit for more information on the South Wood County Hunger Coalition initiative and how you can get involved in stamping out hunger

Street Opening

This week, prior to heading to Lunch by the River, join us for the Ribbon Cutting to mark the official opening of the First Street/Roundabout project. The event takes place near the Courthouse at Market Street at 11:30 AM, Thursday, June 26th!.

Pizza With the Mayor

Earlier this year, I launched Coffee with the Mayor. 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! Meeting residents in comfortable, friendly locations has been a great experience and I’m looking forward to hosting these and similar sessions. While I plan to rotate Coffee locations and times, at the suggestion of many, I am going to launch another variation, in the evening, dubbed Pizza with the Mayor on Wednesday, July 2nd from 5:30-6:30pm at the Ridges. All are welcome..

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach


Community Update – Chickens, Blossom Fest, Trees and Street Re-Opening



Raising Chickens In Wisconsin Rapids            

Earlier this month, at the request of residents, the City took the first step to consider an ordinance allowing residents to raise chickens within City limits.  The recommendation  from the Finance and Property committee will go to City Council this evening for full Council consideration and possible adoption.

Residential-chicken ordinances are not unique just to rural areas.  As the multitude of sites dedicated to City-raised chickens demonstrate, both rural and urban municipalities have seen a movement toward raising chickens for pets, food and even keeping bugs at bay.  In Wisconsin, the City of Milwaukee has adopted an ordinance allowing the keeping of up to 4 chickens per residential premises.  More locally, Nekoosa and Stevens Point also have ordinances allowing residential raising of chickens.  Although there are questions and concerns surrounding invoking such an ordinance, many of these concerns are alleviated with rules around care, coop regulation and design and ultimately effective city ordinance enforcement.

If you have any questions or concerns, or just want to learn more, I encourage you to contact the Citizens for a Clean Green and Welcoming Community, who have been coordinating the effort to bring this ordinance to Wisconsin Rapids.

Blossom Fest 

blossomfestThis Thursday marks the start of the 2014 Cranberry Blossom Festival!  Set to run June 19-22 and feature more than 20 events including live music, cranberry blossom tours, culinary treats and our parade. This year’s Blossom Fest is sure to have something for everyone.  Some of the featured events taking place during blossom fest include:

  • Downtown Classic Cinema Under the Stars– Thursday 6/19 @ 7:30PM on West Grand Avenue
    • Family, friends and kids of all ages can enjoy a free movie under the stars.
  • June Dairy & Berry Breakfast– Friday 6/20 @ 6:00-10:30AM at LHS
    • Held at Lincoln High School, enjoy a dairy breakfast with cranberry flair, and the chance to take a dairy farm tour.
  • Arts, Crafts and Cranberries Fair– Saturday 6/21 @ 10:00AM-4:00PM, Witter Field
    • This outdoor event features crafts, framed art, pottery and many cranberry themed products, sure to have something to interest everyone.
  • Cranberry Blossom Festival Carnival– Beginning Friday, Witter Field
    • The carnival comes back again this year!  Throughout the weekend, adults, families and kids of all ages can enjoy carnival rides, games and food at the Cranberry Blossom Carnival at Witter Field.
  • Cranberry Blossom Fest Parade– Sunday 6/22 @ 12:00PM, Downtown
    • The weekend events come to an end with the grand Cranberry Blossom Fest Parade along Grand Avenue.

I look forward to seeing you June 19-22.  Visit for full details on all the events taking place during the event.

Hopa Tree Planting/Beautification Council

Over the last few months, residents have been meeting for the Mayor’s Council on Beautification.  The meetings have been highly productive, with a great turnout of residents; with several projects already underway!  Driving by City entrances as well as along West Grand Avenue, you may have seen the long planters placed with flowers adding a touch of color to our streetscape.

flowerbasketsWe also saw inspiring momentum with the hanging flower basket project, led by members of the Beautification Council, which includes hanging 36 planters on lampposts along West Grand Ave. from City Hall to 2nd Street, as well as along 1st and Oak streets.  The “hanging baskets” project has seen community involvement through an “adopt a basket” component (with all of the baskets already committed!) and volunteers taking part in the watering of the baskets.  The baskets are up already along West Grand Avenue, and will be installed along 1st and Oak Streets, with the goal of coinciding with Blossom Fest.  If you or someone you know would like to be involved with the project, 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 includes planting flowering Trees along hopathe river, where Hopa Trees previously lined the river.  This Thursday, June 19 at 4:30PM, a tree planting event is set to take place at the intersection of 1st Street S. and Johnson Street (near the Tribune Building).  A shortened Beautification meeting will follow shortly after.  This Thursday’s event and meeting will be an excellent 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, held the third Thursday of every month at 4:30PM.

Roundabout Ribbon Cutting

In my last Community Update, I gave an update on City construction projects happening or yet to happen in our city.  One of the projects highlighted as “near completed” was the roundabout construction by the Courthouse.  I am happy to announce that construction is complete and the area is set to reopen shortly.  A ribbon cutting is planned for Thursday, June 26th at 11:30AM  to commemorate the completion of the project. The traffic flow will be smoother, a recreational trail will enhance its connectivity and street surface will be new again. This intersection serves as the gateway to our waterfront area and am pleased there are plans to make it more attractive upon the street’s reopening!

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink


Community Update – City Pool, Bicycle Routes, and Modern Issues



City Pool Opening & Challenges            

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith school out and sunny days the norm, many residents are excited for the opening of our City’s pool.  Mead Pool is set to open this Wednesday, June 11 at noon.  Although the pool is opening on time, this year’s opening didn’t come without significant challenges.

Constructed in 1978, Mead pool is now 36 years old and pushing the usable life for a pool of its kind in Wisconsin.  As a rule of thumb, the typical life of a tank capacity outdoor pool in our area is around 30 years.  For Mead Pool, extending beyond the useful life of the pool has presented us with challenges with water pressure, draining and deck conditions- requiring repairs that can become costly to complete to bring the pool to a functional state.

With the age of the pool and demands of unforeseen repairs to an asset that has gone beyond poolits anticipated service life, although we can continue to buy time, a permanent solution must be found.  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, and possibly fundraising for such a project.  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.

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, I expect an opportunity for public involvement.  Further, it was reported last week our neighbors in the Village of Port Edwards question whether this may be the final summer of their current municipal pool.  Might the current state of our municipal pools warrant a collaborative solution? Maybe so.

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 position solution benefiting all of our residents is reached.  Until then, we are happy to announce that the pool repairs are completed and residents can once again enjoy the pool during those hot months.  Information relating to Mead Pool hours and dates of operation can be found here.

Proposed Bike Routes 

Last month, I gave an overview of the Complete Streets” concept in my Community Update.   Complete Streets is a term used to describe roadways that are designed and operated to enable safe, convenient and comfortable access and travel for all users of all ages and abilities, including pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists.  Although we have over 20 miles of trails designated throughout our City, the connectedness of those trails is lacking and ripe for improvement.

Last week, the Parks & Recreation Commission voted to approve enhancements to our bike path network that would allow for bike routes to parks and schools as well as provide access to share right-of-ways on designated streets within the City.  This decision furthered last month’s recommendation and brings our City one step closer to a broader “Complete Streets” program.

I am pleased with the progress the Parks & Recreation Commission has made in advancing the Complete Streets concept here in the City of Wisconsin Rapids.  The bike routes proposal will now go to Public Works for approval at next month’s meeting.  As an avid biker, I join the many residents who are excited about the further development and interconnectedness of our City’s bike/trail system.

Modern Issues Expo

Last week, I had the pleasure of joining community leaders to observe the Modern Issues Expo at LHS.  The expo featured students in World Issues classes performing a project based assessment on a modern global issue, finding creative ways to raise community awareness.

Some of the issues identified included world hunger, LGBT rights, police brutality, and animal rights.  I was impressed with students’ ingenuity in tying in modern technology with community awareness of global issues.  From creating a song or a board game, to designing merchandise that raises awareness, students utilized modern channels of distribution in getting the word out about their respective global issues.

Blossom Fest

blossomfestNext week Thursday begins the annual Blossom Fest event. Yes, the carnival will return on Friday. The June Dairy and Berry Breakfast takes place Friday morning and Sunday is the annual parade! Full event details can be found by visiting


Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach


Community Update – City Construction Project Update



City Construction Project Update            

Now entering the first week of June (already!), City crews have begun working on planned construction projects throughout the City, with some already nearing completion.  Many variables affect the construction season- most obvious, the weather, both inclement as well as what we’ve experienced this year, a later and wet spring.  There are also, of course, those unforeseen circumstances outside of weather that we must work to adapt to.  As construction has begun on some of these projects, residents have inquired as to the status of the construction projects, and what to expect in the coming months.  In this week’s, Community Update I aim to highlight City street construction and improvement activity that is taking place over the summer, as well as preliminary planned activities through 2019.

Concrete Pavement Patching 

For those who drive the City’s main thoroughfares, the most obvious activity is the pavement patching of roads.  At this point, concrete pavement patching has been completed on 8th Street South and E. Riverview Expressway (between 12th St. S. and 16th St. S.).  Concrete pavement patching will begin the week of June 9 on W. Riverview Expressway between 2nd Avenue S. and Chase Street. The City utilizes contractors for this work.  The typical life of our streets is 30 years, with some streets lasting 50-60 years with proper maintenance.  Over the road’s life, our typical streets require some crack filling beginning about three years after it is built and then again at six years of life.  Chip sealing then will take place after about fifteen years, repeating the process every five to seven years after the first chip seal in order to maximize our streets’ service life.

The Cost of street maintenance is expensive, and locally funded through property taxes, state transportation aid and possible grant funds.  Funding costly street maintenance repairs early avoids costly accelerated costs in the near future.  With property tax levy limits, we as a City have challenged ourselves to find ways to create a sustainable street maintenance/replacement program, and incorporate those planned activities. Rapid Improvement, the city’s operational improvement initiative, and Activity Based Budgeting are two such connected ways to achieve a balanced maintenance and reconstruction program that continuously improves.

Knowing preventative maintenance is the key to avoiding costly accelerated maintenance due to degradation of our streets, the City continuously seeks out ways within our means to keep our infrastructure healthy and sustainable for generations to come.

Construction Projects

If you’ve driven near the Hotel Mead on East Grand Avenue or Jackson St, you’ve likely seen the photoconstruction taking place.  Currently, City crews are reconstructing 4th Street between Oak Street and E. Grand Avenue.  The intersection of 3rd Street and E. Jackson Street should be graveled and open to traffic around June 11.  Curb and gutter and sidewalk installation will follow shortly after.  In the same area, crews are working on the 1st St reconstruction/Baker St intersection and roundabout by the Wood County Courthouse.  The concrete work has been
completed and asphalt paving has begun today!  Completion of this project is expected on or before June 26 in which the road will be formally opened following a ribbon cutting. This is a Wisconsin DOT project and subsequently completed with State Transportation and local funding.

Following the completion of the Oak/3rd/E. Jackson street project, City crews will begin reconstructing 10th Street between Saratoga Street and Peach Street, with an anticipated completion date in August. Beyond the very poor pavement conditions, the existing water main, constructed prior to 1950, is only a 4 inch main, well below today’s minimum fire flow standards. More information on this project can be found here.

For Wisconsin DOT projects, consulting engineers have been selected for the design of the project to reconfigure the pavement marking for left turn lanes and convert the traffic signals to traffic actuated at the intersection of 8th Street South and Chestnut Street.  Construction is planned for 2015.  Additionally, the project to reconstruct the intersection of 8th Street South and E. Grand Avenue has been awarded. A design consulting engineering firm is planned to be selected in July- construction is planned for 2017.

Following the passage of the speed limit increase on 2nd Avenue, improvements have been discussed to address traffic concerns. The redesign of 2nd Ave S between the Riverview Expressway and the roundabout to improve traffic flow is being studied by the Wisconsin DOT. Construction is tentatively scheduled for 2018.  Finally, the reconstruction of E. Grand Avenue between 3rd Street and 8th Street has been awarded STP Urban funding in the 2013-2018 program cycle for design and reconstruction. A design consulting engineering firm is planned to be selected in July- Construction is anticipated in 2019. The following is an inclusive list of all planned 2014 projects:

Bike Paths: 1st St N, Veterans Park, E Jackson St to Love St., E Jackson St to E Grand Ave

Building Improvements: City Hall Police Parking Lot

Concrete Pavement Repair: E. Riverview Expressway, 12th St. S. to 16th St. S., 12h tSt 5 to 16th St S.

Developers Projects: Klevene Ct, Cul-de-sac to 15th Place S., Cul-de-sac to 15th Place S.

Downtown Projects:: Oak St.,  4th St, Oak St.  to E. Grand Ave.,

Rapids East Commerce Center: 52 Acres East of 48th St. Site, RECC, Filling Site

Street Reconstruction Projects: 17th Ave. N, 15th Ave, West Grand Ave. to former RR tracks, W Grand Ave. to High St. (2 prop.)

Traffic Control Installations: LED Traffic Signals, Pedestrian LED Flasher, LED Traffic Signals, Detector Loop Addition, 6th Ave and W. Grand Ave., 10th Ave and W. Grand Ave., 8th St. S and Kuhn Ave., South 54 and CTH W

Watermain Projects: 10th St. S., 17th Ave. S., Peach St.. to Saratoga St. Carey St.,  Water Break/Sewer Repair

Wis DOT Projects: Clyde St., Washington St., 8th St South Pedestrian Signal, 3rd St. to 4th St., Port St. to Lincoln St., South 54 to 28th St. N., 8th 5t South & Grove Ave.,  Intersection Safety Improvements,8th St South and E. Grand Ave Consult Design,  2nd Ave South

It will undoubtedly be a busy summer of street repairs and construction projects here in Wisconsin Rapids.  We thank everyone for their patience and support as we make all of the above improvements to our City.

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach


Community Update



Start-up Businesses and Retail

1776 Challenge Cup            

communityupdate1776Last Thursday and Friday, I joined  city leaders, visionary entrepreneurs and innovators from around the world for the “Challenge Cup,” organized by 1776.  1776 is an organization that seeks to connect startups with vital resources they need to grow- from mentorship to public/private connections to capital and media attention.  The 1776 Challenge Cup was a venue to do that and more.  The event sought to bring together individuals from around the world representing various backgrounds and industries to find transformative solutions to global challenges in the areas of health, education, energy and governing processes.

The Challenge Cup further reinforced the value of “smart cities”- the idea that local performance depends not only on a City’s endowment of hard infrastructure, but also on the availability and quality of knowledge, communication and social infrastructure.  Events such as the Challenge Cup- by bringing leaders and startups from all over the country together-  better establish creative solutions to real-world problems cities like ours face on a daily basis.  The Challenge Cup Event also included valuable sessions on:

1) Union Kitchen tour – Housed in a 7,300 square foot former warehouse, Union Kitchen exists as an incubator to grow and promote small food businesses.  The goal is to provide a low-cost, low-risk full-service kitchen for local businesses to grow and establish their communityupdateunionkitchenoperations, eliminating the need for small businesses to take on debt, purchase expensive equipment and sign long term leases when starting out.  This tour was inspiring- the model works well for those businesses involved, and could have application in our area.  In the same way ideas that came out in the Tribune Building meetings, a food incubator leveraging the synergistic operations of different businesses that don’t have to invest alone in the capital required to launch- therefore removing many of the barriers to entry- as a way to bring development to our community. Recently I’ve received contact from aspiring entrepreneurs who are looking to launch food businesses. This model would be more sustainable and cost effective for launch.

2) Startup Government –  This all-day conference examined the role of government at the state and local levels and how we use policy to drive innovation.  Admittedly, innovation is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when many people think of government- yet government can be a true driver of innovation, by bringing innovation to their communities to bridge technology gaps, increase transparency and provide essential service in more ways- engaging residents in things they care about.  The goal of this conference was to idea share best practices on how government can be a catalyst for innovation and what government agencies can learn from start-ups.  One such start-up relates to a summit I took part in last fall with Code for America.  Code for America has the goal of helping government leverage different technology solutions to solve community challenges (i.e. creating apps for government focused on improving citizen engagement).

Cultivating start up activity is crucial to ensuring a strong economic future for our community. Simple solutions that leverage our assets like locally headquartered tech company Renaissance Learning, MSTC, K-12, government and local businesses will help foster a startup ecosystem

RECon – Retail Real Estate Convention

From “Smart Cities” to growing our City’s retail spaces, this week I took the opportunity to attend 2 days at the largest Retail Real Estate Convention.  The convention provides networking, deal making and educational opportunities for cities, developers and retailers from around the country.  The event provides an opportunity to meet retailers to discuss opportunities for them to do business in our City as well as attend educational sessions to learn about the market trends for shopping centers and redevelopment.

In last week’s Community Update, I referred to the need for a mindful approach to filling our City’s vacant retail spaces- like those with the Rapids Mall.  Active marketing and management is a critical component to restoring vibrancy to the property. This conference provided the opportunity to not only meet with our mall owners to discuss strategies going forward, but also to network with potential tenants for a fit for vacant mall and other retail locations in our city. In the near future we will be gathering data to tell the story about gaps and opportunities in our market. This information will be shared with developers whose site criteria matches our area. In Saturday’s Daily Tribune, a story appeared specifically about the Rapids Mall.

The RECon convention also has several breakout sessions and panels for further learning best practices:

1) Retail Property Redevelopment in 2014 – This session addressed the challenges and opportunities in redeveloping and repositioning existing retail properties.  Panelists of experienced retail industry executives and local leaders reviewed recent successes and failures with a view toward lessons learned.  Our session focused on the topics of developing a strategic vision for retail spaces, the necessity for government sponsorship and support, and the value enhancement of retail spaces.  The session was eye opening in that it further evidenced that Wisconsin Rapids is not alone in the challenges we face with our retail spaces – specifically mall space vacancy and tenant attraction in our mall space.  Malls everywhere are facing challenges and forced to find new solutions to occupancy challenges related to the changing dynamic of retail.  This session allowed us to pool ideas and learn from each other to bring “best practices” back to our respective municipalities.

2) Successful Public/Private Partnerships for Retail Development – This session involved a panel of individuals representing both public and private sectors to discuss how their respective communities have created successful retail developments through partnerships with municipalities.  The panel discussion was insightful and had strategies that could be directly applicable for our City in helping revive or grow Rapids Mall tenancy numbers.  Economic development and success are reliant upon the support and strategic vision that the City and business owners coming together can provide. The City of Wisconsin Rapids, in coordination with the private sector, has a vital role to help showcase and support our economic, entertainment and recreational assets and opportunities. Wausau Mayor Jim Tipple was a panelist sharing his city’s ‘restarting economic engines’ strategy.

As your Mayor, I will continue to explore ideas and strategies to help address the long-term sustainability of all our City’s retail spaces.  Each of our retail spaces are unique, have different potential, and the City plays an important role in supporting their redevelopment.  It is no question that attracting new and growing our current retail spaces are key to our City’s (and area’s) long-term success and sustainability; strong community and municipal partnerships are crucial to this success.

Coffee with the Mayor

On Wednesday, June 4th, I invite you to join me at Sofia’s Restaurant, from 8:30-9:30AM.  All are welcome to join me for all or just part of the time, for breakfast or just coffee, so spread the word to friends and neighbors.

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach


Community Update



Rapids Mall and Wisconsin Rapids Retail            

Recently I had the long awaited and much anticipated opportunity to meet with the ownership of the Rapids Mall.  Beyond sharing the most obvious concerns about attention to the internal and exterior state of the property, I also provoked a dialogue about it’s future. While we all have hopes (and maybe dreams) there is realistic action that can be taken now to better position itself for a positive future. With commitments from the owners in making the property much more presentable to current and future tenants, we also discussed other action items both the mall ownership, management, and city can take.  Considerations given to the former Younkers space, parking and outlots were discussed. Active marketing and management is a critical component to restoring vibrancy to the property. As we move forward building on this first contact in which I hope is part of a much more regular dialogue, we can effectively market the vacant spaces as opportunity to fill gaps in our retail offering.

A vibrant future for the Rapids Mall is all but certain.  As your Mayor, I will continue to explore new ideas and strategies to help address the long-term sustainability of all our City’s retail spaces.  Even as early as next week, I will be working with the mall ownership to solicit interest in not only our mall ‘opportunity spaces’ but spaces for development all across our City.  Each of our retail spaces are unique and have different potential, however, the City plays an important role in supporting their growth. Economic development and success are reliant upon the support and strategic vision that the City and business owners coming together can provide. The City of Wisconsin Rapids, in coordination with the private sector, has a vital role to help showcase and support our economic, entertainment and recreational assets and opportunities.

National Nursing Home Week

WRT 0513 NursingHome SA

Photo credit to Daily Tribune Media – Casey Lake

This week, Wisconsin Rapids joins cities around the country in celebrating National Nursing
Home Week.  National Nursing Home Week recognizes the incredible work that nursing homes in our area and throughout the country do in caring for members of our community.  I participated in kicking off National Nursing Home Week in Wisconsin Rapids with the reading of a proclamation and a balloon release in celebration at Strawberry Lane. I heard loud and clear from residents how much they enjoy the visit from friends and loved ones- make it part of your routine to pay a visit!

Teen Leadership Graduation

10294281_668410286560274_277259658087378960_nLast Tuesday marked a special evening for a group of high school sophomores in our community.  The 2013-2014 Teen Leadership group celebrated their graduation from the program with a dinner held in their recognition of their accomplishment.

Teen Leadership is a program of Incourage Community Foundation and supported by our area local businesses and organizations that offers hands-on learning for high school sophomores from our five area high schools, with untapped leadership potential.  A capstone of every Teen Leadership class is a community project, aimed at applying their skills.  Last year’s project included beautification of the stormwater retention pond at 16th and Two Mile; this year’s group focused on prepping and painting bikes to help get the local bike share program, River Riders, closer to start up.10246661_668410283226941_1277702372130922131_n

I took the opportunity to speak to the teens about the significant role they each can play in our community.  As a young professional and millennial Mayor, engaging and encouraging young adults to be active in the community is critical to our growth as a community.  I reminded the graduating class that just because the Teen Leadership program was coming to a close, it was just the beginning for them to make their mark on their community.  Having youth, young adults or newly involved individuals step forward and take action in various leadership roles is important.  “We” as a community will be looking to see where their interests lie as we see and hear about thier community involvement going forward.  Congratulations to the graduates and thank you for learning leadership skills to apply in our community!  For more information on the Teen Leadership program, please visit this link.

Judging 6th Graders Speech Competition

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to participate as a judge for Wisconsin Rapids Middle School’s sixth grade speaking contest.  The contest consisted of 12 students giving a 3-5 minutes speech on the theme of “The Importance of Healthy Living” and scored in the areas of content, organization and delivery.

The students gave an impressive array of speeches on topics ranging from exercising and leading a healthy lifestyle to more serious and complex issues of tobacco and drugs and health issues of meals in the prison system.  I was pleased to see students giving effective presentations on complex issues as well as local solutions.

Parents Who Host Lose The Most

Last Tuesday, the Family Center arranged an event that aimed to take steps to avoid tragic alcohol related deaths involving young adults by holding a “Parents Who Host Lose the Most” Town Hall at the Wood County Courthouse.  The event was part of a larger public awareness campaign seeking to draw attention to the risks associated with underage consumption of alcohol.  A panel discussion occurred with residents and stakeholders from Wisconsin Rapids and surrounding communities.  I was joined in attendance by our Police Chief and the Wood County Sheriff, as well as members from the Family Center and Wood County employees.  I would like to thank everyone who joined in the conversation for their time and participation in raising awareness for this important matter.

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach