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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Marinette Council Gives Nod To Design Main Street Plaza

Issue Date: January 20, 2022

If all goes well, within a year or two the City of Marinette will have a fully re-constructed Main Street from Hwy. 41 to Ludington Street, and a pedestrian-friendly plaza/mall development - a place for people to gather downtown - at the triangle where Pierce Avenue and Wisconsin Street meet Main Street.

At its meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 18, Marinette City Council heard a remote presentation from Ayres Associates planners, led by Craig Schewe, on progress toward the design for Main Street reconstruction and the proposed pedestrian mall, and related costs, and after some discussion Council approved a motion authorizing Ayres Associates to consider their planning and go forward with another grant application. There were no dissenting votes. Aldermen Ken Keller and Jason Flatt were absent.

Business people interested in the project had been urged to attend and some were among the approximately 30 people in the audience. One was Kim Brooks, who with her husband Rusty Wolfe is owner of the Main Street Antique Mall and other businesses in Marinette. Brooks declared the plan devised by Ayres Associates was "a home run," and exactly what is needed to create a pedestrian-friendly shopping area. Alderman Doug Oitzinger was less enthusiastic, but did end up voting to proceed with the plan.

During time for public comment at the start of the meeting Derrek Kline, od 2323 Sherman Street, Marinette, asked the board to overlook the two strikes against him and approve his application for a beverage servers license. He said the one strike, his sole offense as an adult, was for possession of marijuana 24 years ago - in 1997. The other was an underage drinking ticket when he was 17. However, after "some domestic issues" in Oconto County seven years ago he had been homeless, and recently came home to Marinette to get a new start. He now has a job, but only if the license is approved. Later in the meeting Alderman Rick Polzin moved to include Kline's name with the other eight licenses being granted, and in view of what Kline had told them, the other aldermen present agreed and his license was approved, making a total of nine approved and one denied.

In other business at the long, hard meeting the board Mayor Steve Genisot informed the board that Olivia Cherry, new Director of Marinette County Elderly Services, has notified the city that they will not be renewing their contract for use of the city's Senior Center and effective Feb. 23 will no longer be preparing or serving meals there. They will be completely moved out by Monday, Feb. 28, Genisot said.

Alderman Doug Oitzinger said they had a Senior Center meeting earlier that day, and were completely surprised by the Elderly Services decision. "We didn't know this was being contemplated," he declared.

Genisot said he had arranged to meet with Cherry on Wednesday, Jan. 19.

Oitzinger said while they would like that decision to be changed, he did not think it would happen. Fiscal impact to the city is loss of the $5,820 they were getting from Elderly Services for the meal program and another $4,710 income from that source. The city budgeted $65,000 for the Senior Center for this year. Oitzinger said the loss of revenue would be significant, but the committee is already looking for ways to make up for the loss.

Genisot said he had been told only about three people a day had actually been eating dinner at the Senior Center since the COVID shutdowns, and 98 percent of the meals served in Marinette are now home delivered. Apparently they will now be prepared in Crivitz. Staff at the Senior Center are employees of Elderly Services, and the committee was told they will be laid off, Genisot said.

In other business, the Council approved Genisot's appointment of firefighter Randy Picard to the Police and Fire Commission, approved hiring Ehlers Public Financial Advisors at a fee of $16,500 to set up a multi-million dollar TIF District in the area of the old Shopko Store. The TIF is to include a hotel and an upscale restaurant. The only direct cost to the city apparently will be the $230,000 needed for storm sewer improvements. The plans include a $900,000 incentive to the restaurant developer, but it would be paid only if the development generates that much revenue.

Genisot repeated the funding proposal will go to the Joint Board of Review and then back to Council before the TIF agreement becomes final. He said if everything goes through, and the hotel and restaurant are both built, the development will add about $8.85 million to the city's tax base.

Genisot said due to the recent surge in Covid the city is again telling employees to wear masks. A program of incentives to employees to get vaccinated ended on Dec. 31. Of the 120 city employees, 82 - 64 percent - took advantage of the incentives.

Several financial actions were approved, including refinancing of $2,100,000 in General Obligation bonds to get payments from the TIF District, as well as some other TIF District amendments. Installing a stop sign at S. Raymond Street at Taylor Street, was also approved, and Genisot was authorized to negotiate with Marinette County in regard to rehabilitation of property taken for non-payment of taxes.

In regard to the proposed pedestrian mall development, the city previously had received a $1 million grant for the Main Street reconstruction, but Schewe said with the recent price increases and expanded scope of the project, end price will be closer to $2 million. There is another grant available that would cover over $800,000 of the added cost if application is successful.

Oitzinger asked that they consider dividing the project into two phases, so the Main Street reconstruction would be completed whether or not the grant application to finance the other portion of the plan was approved.

Oitzinger also noted the plan as displayed by Schewe and other Ayres planners appeared to be quite modern in concept, while the buildings that surround the pedestrian plaza date back to the late 1800s. He suggested they look at a more historic concept, with perhaps less focus on Marinette Marine and ship building and more on the city's lumbering history.

Discussions will continue, and the proposed plans are to be put on the city's web site, or otherwise be made available to the public.

Meanwhile, Council did approve providing the money for Ayres to continue planning and apply for the additional grant.


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