Community Update: Discuss Triangle Project with prospective redevelopment partner, Police Department “Trunk or Treat” Offers Halloween Fun and Games

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All invited to discuss Triangle Project with prospective redevelopment partner

Area residents and business owners are invited to learn about and discuss the residential/commercial space redevelopment opportunities at the Downtown Triangle site. Representatives from prospective developer Gorman & Company, Inc.  will join City officials to lead the conversation.

The event takes place today, Monday, October 23, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., at Karen’s Wines and Steins, 160 1st Street North.

Headquartered in the Madison-area Village of Oregon, Gorman & Company has worked since 1984 to specialize in downtown revitalization, the preservation of affordable housing, workforce housing and the adaptive reuse of significant historic buildings. Gorman redevelopment projects include partnerships with Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha, Madison, Portage, Sheboygan, Fond du Lac, Janesville and Wisconsin Dells.

The Triangle Area – located on the block bounded by 1st Street North (west and north), East Jackson Street (south) and Market Street (east) – serves as the northeast gateway to the Downtown Riverfront area, overlooking the Wisconsin River and our public park spaces. The initiative to redevelop this area was jumpstarted when the City 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, and cleared the buildings. The resulting space is ideally suited for a mixed-use development with underground parking. The potential exists for residential, office, retail, restaurant and other uses.

We are excited by this partnership opportunity with an experienced community revitalization partner. We welcome your presence and input regarding our shared vision of sustainable residential, commercial and retail redevelopment.

Police Department “Trunk or Treat” Offers Halloween Fun and Games

I encourage individuals, businesses and organizations to enjoy an evening of family fun, while also engaging with our local law enforcement community.

Wisconsin Rapids Police Department’s (WRPD) first “Trunk or Treat” event takes place on Tuesday, October 31, from 4:30 to 7:00 p.m., at the Rapids Mall Parking Lot (Farmers Market location).

Trunk or Treat is a way for “kids” of all ages to celebrate a safe Halloween, with games, contests and assorted treats handed out by participants who fill the trunks of their vehicles, decorated in fall splendor.

All are invited to show up in costume to share in the festive gathering, and there will be free hot dogs and chips for kids in costume. Awards will be given for best decorated car and best costume.

We also advise citizens to check out helpful tips for safe trick-or-treating from the WRPD Facebook page  and watch this video from Wisconsin Rapids Community Media (WRCM).

Halloween is a colorful and enjoyable occasion. Let’s work together to keep it safe.

Thanks for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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Supermass to present near-final preliminary riverfront designs at City Hall on Tuesday

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Supermass to present near-final preliminary design at City Hall on Tuesday

1_Page_51The Wisconsin Rapids Riverfront design initiative reaches another exciting stage this week.  Our design consultant, Supermass Studio, will make its near-final preliminary design presentation to the Wisconsin Rapids Common Council on Tuesday, September 15, at 6:00 p.m. This phase of the design process comes at a timely juncture, as federal, state, community and foundation interests, along with individual citizens, have all taken an active role in advancing the present-day concept of Downtown riverfront redevelopment:

On August 19, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin proposed the Waterfront Community Revitalization and Resiliency Act to support local efforts to revive waterfronts by funding grants and extending preferred status in other federal grants and loans;   

Veterans Event Terrace & River DeckOn August 31, Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and representatives of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation joined me, other local officials and representatives from Incourage Community Foundation to announce the awarding of a $472,000 grant to the City of Wisconsin Rapids to help fund the renovation of the Tribune building site. 

In keeping with the note of urgency area I struck in my State of the City Address regarding the fostering of a vibrant Downtown area, our strategic plan of action has been marked by the review and implementation of new and previously proposed development concepts; a groundswell of private investments; and City property sales transactions.

All in all, these initiatives and proposals reinforce our shared vision of a Downtown waterfront district that shines as a commercial-residential-recreation destination.  I personally invite you to attend Tuesday evening’s Common Council meeting to view the latest development in achieving this vision.

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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Community Update – February 24

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Google Capital Invests $40M in Renaissance Learning

The big news of last week came Tuesday, when it was announced that Google Capital became a minority shareholder in locally founded and headquartered Renaissance Learning with a $40 million investment in the education and learning solutions provider. Google is not the first large-name to invest in Renaissance. Other well known partners include Apple, Inc. and Sylvan Learning Systems. The investment also allows for a Google representative to join Renaissance’s board of directors. This individual will be the second recent board member representing major tech players in recent months. Last December, Bruce Chizen, a board member for Oracle and former CEO of Adobe, joined Renaissance Learning’s board. Renlearn2Google Capital, the equity fund’s stated mission is to invest in companies that use technology to change the way people experience the world. If Google’s track record is any indication of changing people’s experience, there is much to come.

Google’s investment is a testament to the significant role Renaissance Learning plays in educational technology. Google’s investment strategy of targeting companies leading in their field affirms the dominance that Renaissance Learning has in their market. Further, it reaffirms the opportunity for us to make our community a place where young workers want to live and work. I continue to make this a priority of mine. Wisconsin Rapids is proud to have Renaissance Learning as part of our community. I am hopeful that this is only the beginning of further growth for the company locally!  In March, I will again meet with Renaissance executives to learn how we may be of assistance in attracting workers and training our local workforce to make Wisconsin Rapids their place of choice to continue to do business.

Technology will continue to be a critical facet of growing our local economy and Google’s investment in a local company is a demonstration of that. We must continue to embrace it and explore ways for other tech firms to start with an idea and grow here. Infrastructure assets like Solarus’ multi-million dollar fiber investment make us a community that is as wired as Silicon Valley and New York City. Now, it’s up to us to make it known to entrepreneurs and employers not yet here and for us to rival those more desirable areas as a place where people want to live, work and raise a family.

Article links: Wall Street Journal  New York Times

Chamber Annual Awards Dinner

Last Thursday was the Heart of Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting at The Ridges. Members of the community braved the inclement weather to gather and celebrate the Chamber’s success in 2013 and recognize outstanding citizen and businesses contributions over the past year. I want to congratulate Mike and Bonita Wolosek as well as Kathy Rash for their efforts in 2013 earning them Community Spirit awards for their outstanding volunteer efforts making a significant impact in our community. Further, Heather Gygi was awarded for Ambassador of the Year, and Phil Brown was recognized as the Citizen of the Year as someone whose work, community service and involvement has positively impacted our community.

Finally, I’d like to extend my congratulations to area businesses who brought home awards and recognition last Thursday for their investment in the Central Wisconsin area: Jacoby Custom Cues – Innovative Business of the Year, Rubi Reds – Entrepreneurs of the year, and ERCO Worldwide – Business of the Year. Thank you for your continued investment in our community.

Coffee with the Mayor

Last week, I held a session at Cravings Coffee Shop, and next week I look forward to meeting with residents on Wednesday, March 5 at the Olympic II Family Restaurant. I am glad residents are attending to ask questions and provide me feedback. I always enjoy the opportunity to meet and have conversation!

Spread the word to friends and neighbors to join!

Regards,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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Community Update – State of the City recap

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2014 State of the City Address

Seeing through on my belief in a more informed and engaged citizenry, I gave my second annual and 2014 State of Our City address last Wednesday. I am thankful for the League of Women Voters of the Wisconsin Rapids area for sponsoring the event and to the Library for hosting. Watch it here.

I am pleased by the broad participation of residents whether in person, on TV or online. Further, this year we introduced the concept of ‘bringing City Hall to you’, where City Department Heads were on hand to distribute information about their departments and to interact and engage with residents at the reception before my remarks.

The focus of the event was to update residents on where we have come as a community and where we are heading. In the last year and a half since I took office, I’ve spent a great deal of time finding ways to strengthen our community – by way of making Wisconsin Rapids a more attractive and competitive city positioned for growth. This goal requires a strong foundation and, in many respects, significant shifts from our traditional ways.

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2014 State of the City

I highlighted some of the accomplishments from 2013 including:

Ways of “getting our city on the map” such as receiving certification of the largest piece of land in our Rapids East Commerce Park. See Announcement. With the ‘shovel ready’ designation it is now marketed to site selectors and prospective businesses around the world.

Proactively identifying vacant and possibly contaminated parcels to prepare for redevelopment. Through our Brownfield assessment program, we’ve identified over 80 parcels, many of which are in progress or completed. This positions property owners and prospective property owners piece of mind in selling or buying real estate for redevelopment, more quickly.

Further, I highlighted efforts in community involvement through the RapidServes initiative over the last year, as well as significant impacts realized from the Rapid Improvement Initiative, which empowers all employees to identify areas of improvement and gain new perspectives in streamlining government operations to be more efficient, effective and customer friendly.

I also made several announcements for the upcoming year. They focused on three areas: growing our local economy, enhancing the quality of life for residents, and the modernization, effectiveness and efficiency of city government.

Wisconsin Rapids is excited to be partnering with Google in 2014 to help get all Wisconsin Rapids businesses online! Small businesses grow twice as fast when they are online. At no cost to the city or businesses, if one small business gains one new customer, it is a success! More information will be available in the coming weeks.

Two initiatives aimed at cutting the “red tape” for prospective developments and projects. First, the creation of a Citywide Business Advocacy Team (CBAT): a cross-department team with a mission to serve as ‘problem-solvers’ to proactively review ordinances and policies.

The second, “Grow Rapids”, a simple, easy to use one-stop-shop available 24/7, 365! Businesses and prospective businesses will have access to resources on-demand, on their schedule, without a trip to city hall with information on business planning, loans, ordinances, etc.

The 3rd space – where we spend our time beyond work and home. I drew attention to the areas for improvement, particularly our parks. The natural beauty of our city on the river can be a destination for visitors and further, a more attractive place for residents and future residents. I called for a multi-year investment in our parks that involve input from you – our residents.

Our people are our greatest asset. Whether they are our employees or our residents, people possess tremendous potential when they are engaged and participating. With one, well two, successful Love your Block initiatives completed in Ward 1 last year, I look forward to more. Residents will have the opportunity to apply in early 2014. Further, I will be inviting residents to participate in a Mayor’s Council on Beautification and another on Sustainability. There is much to be done in both of these areas, and I believe residents must be involved.

I encourage you to watch and share the State of Our City presentation with your friends and neighbors. I welcome your feedback.

It is both a privilege and an honor to serve this great city. I can confidently say that progress was made in 2013 and 2014 is off to an energetic and exciting start! I thank you for the opportunity to be your mayor.

January 2014 Urban Alliance Meeting

Last Friday afternoon, I joined mayors from cities around Wisconsin for the January League of Wisconsin Municipalities Urban Alliance meeting. The recently announced anticipated $912 million state budget surplus has created a dialogue on how it might best be used. It is without question, the surplus has been generated as a direct result of growth in Wisconsin’s cities and towns. I believe the state should invest at least part of the surplus in local communities to spur further job creation and economic growth and put Wisconsin on the road to permanent financial stability. ImageRick Chandler, Secretary of the Department of Revenue joined us to update us on tax reform and to hear our perspectives on the surplus.

It is no question that thriving cities are key to Wisconsin’s long-term success and sustainability and that a strong state and municipal partnership is crucial to having successful communities.

  1. Stressed the need for our state to restore the 2012 cuts to shared revenue and other municipal programs so municipalities can attract and retain employers that create jobs. Cities do not have the option to plow snow, collect garbage or invest in infrastructure. As such, restoring the $30 million cut made in 2012 to general transportation aids that go to cities to maintain local streets is a start.

  2. Discussed municipal objections to proposed legislative initiatives interfering with local control, like PILOT legislation, the Room Tax bill, etc. As local elected officials, we are closest to the people and subsequently issues. Maintaining local control is imperative.

These topics, all very important to our city, reminded me that Wisconsin Rapids is not alone in many of our challenges – economic and others. Meetings such as this with the Urban Alliance affords us the opportunity to have conversations with other city leaders on their approaches and advocate for further investment in our cities.

In closing, I invite you to join me for coffee Wednesday, February 12 from 8 – 9 a.m. at From the Ground Up coffee house. If not there, I am available in my office, by phone, email, Facebook, or Twitter.

Zach