Baraboo wants east-siders’ views

February 2, 2018

Revitalizing Baraboo’s east side will require input from affected property owners and the state Department of Transportation, a city committee agreed Tuesday.

The Baraboo Economic Development Commission’s east-side corridor committee decided Tuesday to hold a stakeholder meeting this spring. Affected merchants, residents and representatives of East Elementary School and SSM Health-St. Clare Hospital will be invited.

“I think they would be very insightful and very enthusiastic,” committee member Jim Bowers said. “You have to have buy-in from the people who are right there.”

The city has worked since 2016 to spur redevelopment on its east side. In recent years, commercial development has been concentrated on Baraboo’s west side, and several east-side properties sit vacant or underutilized.

Last year, the city hired MSA Professional Services to study the neighborhood and create a framework for reinvestment and growth. Committee Chairman John Alt said a stakeholder meeting would offer an opportunity to introduce the study to east-siders. “I think it would behoove them to have a copy in front of them,” he said.

Committee members said it’s critical to involve the DOT. The city’s redevelopment plan depends largely on when and how the state rebuilds Highway 33, which becomes Eighth Street as it enters Baraboo’s east side.

The city repaved the four-lane road’s outer lanes last year at its own expense. In the study report, MSA encourages city leaders to push the DOT to rebuild the road with a fresh look. Rather than two lanes of traffic in each direction, the road could be redesigned to allow one lane of through traffic each way, with a turn lane in between and a bike lane on the edge.

“So much is dependent on funding for Eighth Street/33, that corridor,” Alt said. “That’s the 800-pound gorilla, right there.”

The east side has several thriving business, including Jose’s Authentic Mexican Restaurant, Fresh Express Market and Log Cabin Restaurant. The SSM Health campus has enjoyed consistent growth. Plus, most of the city’s housing development is occurring on the east side, along Highway T.

But several commercial properties remain vacant or underused. These include a former grocery store, a hardware store, a convenience store and a lumber yard. City leaders want to see those properties revitalized to fit neighborhood needs. Through an online survey and a public meeting, the study identified consumer interest in bringing restaurants, clothing stores and another grocery store to the east side.

The study recommends reinvigorating the neighborhood by using tax incentives to spur redevelopment and identifying sources of venture capital.

The committee also wants to see the neighborhood establish an identity, possibly with help from leaders at East Elementary. A facelift could include installing signs at the eastern city limits branding the entry into Baraboo; enforcing sign and building codes to remove eyesores; and installing landscaping, planters and benches to make the corridor more appealing.

The committee is leaning toward a breakfast meeting at an east-side venue in late April or early May.

“I think that would be a great start,” Alt said.