Although leaders in the city of Green Lake have only begun digging through feedback from a community survey, a few key themes have begun to emerge.
Green Lake’s ad hoc committee on economic development began discussing the results from the survey, which was completed by more than 1,000 residents and visitors, last week Tuesday and discussed one of the most predominant findings from the survey: Downtown revitalization.
Many survey participants want the city to focus “on the downtown area, getting it healthy and viable with more shops and restaurants and entertainment,” said Loni Meiborg, a committee member who spearheaded the effort.
“To me, it’s evident where this committee needs to focus and it’s on business development downtown,” Meiborg said. “... It makes the City Council’s job easier if we have a clearly defined purpose as a community and know how we’re going to drive economic viability.”
In addition, Green Lake Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lisa Beck, who sits on the economic development committee, noted downtown improvement, affordable housing, expanded activities for children, more winter events and maintaining lake quality were some of the survey’s most prevalent themes.
Ald. Chris Foos, the committee’s chairman, echoed Beck’s sentiments, noting affordable housing and downtown revitalization were predominant themes among respondents.
In terms of providing affordable housing, Foos said many respondents wanted more options in the $150,000 to $200,000 price range and suggested marketing the area toward large metropolitan cities, with more people working from home.
“Because so many people are working from home, they want to get out of the cities and they want to move to a beautiful place,” he said. “This is one of the most beautiful places, so why not put an ad in Chicago or Milwaukee magazines?”
Former mayor and committee member Jon McConnell said year-round vitality of downtown businesses also was a major factor in his review of the results.
“That seemed to be the biggest area of concern, the downtown,” he said.
The committee discussed potential ways to support Green Lake’s downtown throughout the year.
Meiborg suggested looking at ordinances to ensure buildings purchased don’t sit vacant, looking for professional services and brand development on digital platforms.
“Frankly, we have to fuel the pipeline of visitors and locals to support us year-round,” she said. “We have to be looking at different channels of doing that.”
She believes the economic development committee has the potential to be “instrumental” in helping Green Lake develop into a “business-friendly community.”
In brainstorming ways to support Green Lake’s downtown, she spoke with shop owners in the neighboring city of Ripon.
Meiborg found multiple business owners who live in Green Lake but operate their companies in Ripon for a multitude of reasons.
“They said foot-traffic, culture, atmosphere, co-op — they work together, not against each other, they cross-promote, they align their hours — we need to build that culture downtown,” she said. “It’s not going to happen by itself and we might hurt a few feelings today, but we have to set long-term goals now.”
Beck proposed an ordinance that would ask businesses to keep more uniform hours if they are located in a prime-downtown area.
She also looked at what the city of Berlin does when a storefront closes. Beck said Berlin inspects downtown businesses after they close to address possible infrastructure issues, which takes a burden off new owners purchasing properties.
“I definitely see [room for] downtown improvements that means trying to revitalize downtown, and not so much beautification,” Beck said.
In terms of the next steps, Foos asked committee members to start thinking about ideas for creating action points from their discussion to be presented at next month’s meeting.
Similarly, Mayor Ray Radis asked the committee to try to focus on a handful of issues from the survey, beginning with what it finds to be the most important and work from there.
“We just have to get a little hit list of what we want to do first,” Radis said. “Little victories will give us some momentum.”