The steering committee heading the Downtown Rhinelander revitalization program held its second informational meeting Wednesday. The first meeting was open to the general public but this meeting was open to business owners who would be affected by the reconstruction of the downtown area.
About 20 business owners attended the meeting which put forth four options for a new look for the downtown and heard about the construction options once a plan is approved.
“The goal is to make the downtown area safer, more functional and more attractive,” Downtown Rhinelander Executive Director Maggie Steffen said. Steffen presented the group with four options the steering committee is deciding between for the new look of the downtown.
The options include changing the parking set up, making Brown Street a one way road and increasing the size of the sidewalks to 20 feet. There was also an option to leave the street as it is.
But most in attendance saw a need for improving the street whatever that may be despite any misgivings they may have about construction and the final look of the project.
“I am a downtown business owner,” Downtown Rhinelander president Mark Gutteter said. “I am nervous. This is a big, big change. This is a big challenge. But this is a unique opportunity to create the future of the downtown. This is something that will be here for 40, 50 years.”
Gutteter said Rhinelander has an opportunity to make the downtown a destination for people and attract visitors to the city.
“We have a chance to reinvent and reinvest in the downtown,” he said. “We have gotten that opportunity to put that vision out there. The whole community will benefit from this.”
The project will not only be key to Rhinelander but to the entire North Central Wisconsin area. Rhinelander is home to 10 percent of the population of North Central Wisconsin and the downtown area employees 2,180 people. It also has the third highest retail sales per capita in the region, behind Eagle River and Iron Mountain.
“And that includes Wausau,” said Sally Latimer, past president of Downtown Rhinelander. “This shows that we are a place worth investing in.”
Not only will the project improve the aesthetics of the downtown but it will also mean an upgrade to the infrastructure.
Public Works Director Tim Kingman said utility work on the project could begin in 2016 and will affect a large area.
“We need to make improvements to more than just Brown Street with a project like this,” Kingman said.
The project, once completed, will run between $5.5 to $8 million but the city has received a grant of $1.2 million from the USDA.
Kingman said a worst case scenario would be that businesses would have to close down for one to two weeks but early planning should make that number well less.
“We can’t have people walking on wet cement or walking downtown when the machine is right there,” he said. “But we are planning this early and with that we can look at the steps carefully, so I think that number is pretty high.”
The committee will begin the process of putting together a proposal for the city to consider. Another public hearing will be held July 23.