Citizen Wausau

A Site About Life in Wausau, Wisconsin

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City Stumbles on Third Street Plan

by on February 9th, 2009

Dino and I appear to be on some kind of odd similar wavelength. Such similarity is not unusual for life long friends, but we only really casually know each other and although there is mutual respect, we really have nothing in common. Nothing except our thoughts on what we wanted to write about this week.

We weren’t in perfect sync: the 400 block was not my chosen topic. Instead, I wanted to give an outsider’s thoughts on the discussion as to the work needed on Third Street downtown.

Most of you would not consider me an outsider. However, I do not own or manage property in that area that most define as downtown. I also do not spend much of my time there. The closest I come to spending quality time downtown is the occasional weekend brunch at The Mint, catching a show at the Grand, or spending way too much time at the Courthouse (they seriously need to give me an office there). However downtown matters to me. It is a piece of the pie that is the Greater Wausau Metro Area. And all of those pieces need to work together and need to succeed together. So if one piece of this pie is missing or is in need of attention, it has a pull not only on the entire city, but the entire Metro. (For me, the City of Wausau is not the whole, it is only a part of the whole.)

In a nutshell, here is the current debate. The City has determined that Third Street from Jefferson to Grant needs work. The businesses along that three block stretch of street fear that closing that street for construction will negatively impact their ability to be profitable. Hence the discussion.

The businesses of downtown have already faced difficulty. My wife, the infamous “Mrs. Rent” who works downtown, jokes with her family back in Oklahoma that when they come to visit, it is okay if they don’t learn the streets of downtown because there are always one or two important ones closed for something, and every few months, the streets that are closed change places. Those from here just find a way. But for those new to the Wausau area or not used to urbanized downtowns, it can be a quite frustrating experience. Many of these businesses have had to do the best they could dealing with the construction when the pedestrian mall was re-opened to traffic, and most recently, when the construction of the Palladian made downtown navigation challenging for many. Many of these are niche businesses that will be the first to suffer from an economic downturn. They have somehow survived a couple of years of construction, and now when they can least afford it, one more season of closed streets in front of their storefronts is on the schedule.

On the Wausau Daily Herald forum boards and article comments, people have questioned if the work is needed at all. They have questioned why the sidewalks and planters are included in the project. (This ties with Dino’s 400 block article because the south block of this project is one stretch of the 400 block, and the “final design” for that block could impact that part of this street construction project.) Someone commented about Third Street being so bad that you can use it to knock the frozen slush blocks off your car.

Being someone who doesn’t find myself downtown often, I didn’t remember what the problems with the sidewalks were, or what the planters even looked like. I drive a truck with a pretty stiff suspension. I get thrown around on 17th Avenue, but never Third Street. So, I took a walk downtown on Friday and took some pictures.

Third Street is in bad shape. Some of the worst areas are near intersections where manhole covers and storm water drains are. The sidewalks are in excellent shape, much better, in fact, than some of sidewalks I plow where if I am not paying attention, the blade on the tractor will hit the uneven surface and nearly throw me off. The planters are snow covered but are out of place with the great sidewalks. They are basically wood, made with 6×6 landscaping lumber, and are the things you would find used around a country home, not a city’s downtown with mostly stone construction.

While taking my walk, I stopped in the Main Street office and had a very brief discussion with Leah. I learned that the question isn’t if Third Street needs to be done, just does it have to be done in 2009, or can it be delayed one year, to 2010?

My thoughts: Yes it can. Although the street is in bad shape, for one more year, temporary patches can hold things together. Let us not forget the speeds that are driven on this street. The speed limit is 25, but I seldom do much more than 15, constantly stopping as people are pulling into and out of parking stalls. (As a matter of fact, a 15 mph speed limit on Third may not be a bad idea.) The sidewalks are just fine. No matter which year the street project is done, the sidewalks don’t need to be a part of it. However the planters have to go. With cosmetic fixes, they could make it one more year, but they do really look like crap.

Now as far as the improvements to the 400 Block, that is a whole other discussion, one that is far from being resolved. Maybe delaying the Third Street project one year will allow us to finally reach a consensus that, if we can’t all be happy with, we at least all can live with.

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