Citizen Wausau

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400 Block: We Need a Closer Look

by on October 27th, 2008

This week Citizen Wausau explores the considered updates to Wausau’s City Square on the 400 Block. For your reference, have a look at these plans. They are not final, but they give a good idea of what is to come.

The city has announced plans for implementing “improvements” to the downtown 400 Block. They say they work will start in fall of 2009 and finish up in spring 2010. Right now, cost is estimated at about $500K (with the city ponying up $274K and planning to fundraise for the rest). The WDH came out in an editorial saying this was a bad time (i.e. recession) for such things. But, to me, it doesn’t seem like a huge expense, even in these troubled times.

But as usual, we’re getting a small helping of info in the local media. In addition to the above planning update, we also are told the project will include a permanent (cement?) stage, Third Street patio, walls ranging from 18 inches to three feet, trees, bushes, etc. And we’ve been shown a cartoonish, overhead design drawing based on an earlier concept (i.e. not including the patio and not clear as to walls).

I’m not necessarily against improvements to the space (although I like it fine now). And I understand and empathize with the leave-it-as-is contingent. But, that’s not likely to happen. The 400 Block’s face will change.

But, why do improvements anyway? It can be a good thing. If it’s cool things that are visually interesting and people-friendly, they can help create additional buzz about the space (i.e. increased brand awareness). A good set of upgrades can enhance the space for everyone. It would be great though, between now and next fall, to examine this project in greater detail and have an opportunity to possibly impact final design.

I have questions:

With the usual delays we see in civic projects, will the 2010 summer season conceivably be impacted? Should the city do this thing in smaller, more manageable chunks? Maybe a more moderate, step-by-step approach that spreads work and costs over two or three years?

Do we have good reason to believe that a permanent concrete stage is a good thing? Am I alone in thinking that in times of non-use, it will take up a chunk space and might just look cold and lonely sitting there? “Hey, this is where sometimes things happen, but not today, and not all winter!”

Based on the detail of the current design drawing it’s hard for me to tell if the built-in benches at the corners face out toward traffic, or in toward the square. They appear to be facing the intersections. Who wants that! But, I could be wrong in my interpretation.

Will a Third Street patio be a plus or a minus? Trading cement or pavers for grass? How big will it be? What will it look like? What is its purpose, VIP seating? We have no drawing of it.

What function will the proposed walls provide? I mean, why are they there? Just visual interest? Planters? How extensive will they be? Won’t they impede future farmer’s markets, festivals, sidewalk activities?

f this just turns into the same kind of crap other towns have done: goofy gazebos, cavernous band shells, fountains that usually don’t work, canons, etc. — things that just stand there taking up space, what have they done for us? Right now, the space isn’t really designed for anything … other than to be a space. I like that.

Anyway, the plan is approved as is. But what is “as is”? A good, realistic ground-level drawing has yet to be shown to us as far as I know … just that overhead from an earlier version. Can the two well-paid design firms knock out some different and accurate perspectives? Please?

I think we need to a good job of nitpicking this project. We need the city to provide more details. Give us the whole updated picture, clearly. Not just a cartoon overhead drawing. Tell us about trees: how many, where, what species, how big when planted? Tell us about that stage: how big, how tall, how wide, how built, what will it look like at ground level? Show us the real wall layout. Show us the patio. And answer questions about possible impact on events and activities. And do these things when there’s still time to make adjustments or address the public’s concerns.

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