Green Lake Downtown Renewal Project hopes so as it transitions to economic development
by Laura Lyke
Green Lake Reporter
A 29-year-old Green Lake public safety building sits vacant on Hill Street, however now, full of potential.
Green Lake resident Mary-Jo Johnson and her neighbors Mary Rowley and Jo Ellen Madden have devoted their time and energy into organizing the Green Lake Downtown Renewal Project, a nonprofit created in April 2009.
The group now is shifting its focus to the old safety building as prospective office space for future Green Lake vendors.
The proposed office building —which would be called Hill Street Station — could bring up to 120 well-paying jobs to the community and, according to a feasibility study by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., would increase business for downtown merchants.
The Green Lake Downtown Renewal Project’s hopes are that filling the space in the public safety building would further develop Green Lake’s economy.
Economic development, however, has not always been the group’s main emphasis.
It initially focused on beautification of the downtown.
Volunteers created more parking for those traveling to Green Lake by boat, rebuilt the downtown Mill Street sidewalk, started downtown volunteer community cleanup days and wrote for and received a beautification grant for new trees and planters in the downtown area, along with new trash and recycling receptacles.
It also organized meetings for local businesses to collaborate and share concerns and ideas to improve the downtown Green Lake business climate, worked with an Eagle Scout to help create Green Lake information kiosks and helped restore and develop Deacon Mills Park and the adjacent wharf.
“We have been so fortunate with Green Lake community members generously donating their time, materials, connections and money,” Johnson said.
Johnson explained, however, that it was through the collaboration with Town Square in spring of 2014 that the idea of changing the focus to developing Green Lake’s economy was sparked.
“Through our relationship with Town Square, we were able to see that there were open spaces in the old safety building. So we started working in collaboration with Town Square to figure out what can we do with this building,” Johnson said.
The Downtown Renewal Project and Town Square saw the vacant, old, public safety building downtown as available space for potential new Green Lake businesses.
“With funds we received from a grant, donations from both organizations and gifts from local donors, we conducted a structural study and a feasibility study,” Johnson said. “Then we started conversations with brokers. How would you market this space and turn it into potential income? How can this be beneficial to our community as a whole? How can this bring more people into the community and have more people want to live here?”
Johnson explained that it is through this ongoing project that Downtown Renewal Project volunteers are discovering that perhaps their biggest impact can be in the economic- development area.
“We felt that we had done some beautification, but now our mission, time, energy and resources are going toward the community impact through economic development,” Johnson said.
She explained that although its main focus is shifting, many of its original accomplishments are being taken over by other organizations.
“We have created some strong alliances,” Johnson said, adding the Parks and Recreation department has been hanging flower baskets. “The beautification isn’t going away, but it’s no longer our main focus.”
“The chamber [of commerce] also wants to take on some of the things we have initiated with some of the downtown businesses.”
Right now, Green Lake Downtown Renewal Project is working on re-purposing the safety building and collaborating with the city and resident Joe Norton on creating more welcoming entrance signs into the community.
The first sign is currently under construction, but Johnson hopes that by the end of this year, there will be entrance signs located on Highway 23 at Thrasher drive and South Lawson Drive.
Johnson is thankful for how far three neighbors’ 2009 idea has come.
“We’re so lucky that we have people in Green Lake who say ‘we’re behind this,’ so we want to give a part of ourselves to help. It’s been a snowball effect, and I’m so grateful for that,” she said.