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City center project input stage winding down

The data collection and visioning portion of the Park Falls city center project has almost concluded, and work has begun on removing anything of value from properties soon to be demolished.

In the wake of gatherings being canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, an online survey intended to collect input from the community has been live for the past few months and is set to close on Friday.

In addition to taking the survey, residents can share ideas on an "idea wall" and upload photos to contribute to the visual inspiration that will help engineers ideate the eventual park.

The survey follows a batch of live webinar groups held with 21 local business leaders on April 16. Those groups were facilitated by GRAEF, a lead consulting firm for the project.

According to a GRAEF report following the web events, participants were asked to focus their discussion on three sections: the city overall, the downtown area, and the redevelopment block (Highway 13 to the railroad and Division Street to First Street South).

Overall themes that emerged from the webinar groups included a desire for family-friendly fun and to be a destination. "Words like lively, vibrant, exciting, and fun were used to describe what stakeholders desired for their community in the future. This was tempered by also gravitating to images that they said evoked a sense of relaxation, order, calm, and cleanliness when viewing design imagery," the report read.

Participants in the webinar groups broadly identified the natural elements of surrounding woods, trails, and the Flambeau River as major amenities, according to the report.

"The stakeholders expressed that the downtown redevelopment is headed in the right direction and is a major opportunity but are weighted by concerns over that people in the community may not want or accept change ... The paper mill is both a source of hope and opportunity and the source of trepidation related to its future source of jobs and economic stability."

In focusing on the downtown area specifically, participants largely agreed the river and Triangle Park were top assets, but when it came to what they were looking for in the downtown, answers were varied.

"A few themes that we noticed were related to beautification and creating a cohesive look in the downtown, perhaps through facade improvements such as canopies," read the report.

When it came to the redevelopment block specifically, or where the city center park will eventually be located, participants mostly pictured the

space as a gathering area for the community, as well as a destination, gravitating "toward images that were activated and had structures or engaged with the nearby buildings. The majority wanted activated spaces and leaned toward interactive elements and activities over programming."

The top facilities or features favored by participants included benches and places to sit, public restrooms, and a bandshell or pavilion for concerts. The top activities favored by participants were walking and enjoying the outdoors, eating with friends and family, and reading or sitting peacefully.

Following the closure of the input period, engineers will produce design concepts to the city and take a round of feedback before moving ahead, according to the survey website.

Block slowly preparing for demolition

Though input is still being collected, the city is forging ahead with the city center project as a whole. Online auctions are already coming to a close to remove anything of value from some of the business and residential properties on the city center block. Once that's complete, it is expected Park Falls Fire and Rescue will burn some of the buildings as practice drills, according to discussion at the May 11 Committee of the Whole.

Demolition work is anticipated to start by the end of July and the foundation work for the new Forward Bank building near the Highway 13 and 182 intersection is anticipated to be complete in October.

"So, by September, the idea is that the block is completely leveled and all of the overhead power lines are buried," explained Brentt Michalek, administrator-clerk at the meeting.

Once the site is prepped, the city plans to "deed over" a few of the parcels on the development block to the bank.

The only structures that will remain on the block are the existing pavilion, the two-story brick building on the northwest corner, formerly the antique store, and possibly the former Wells Fargo building.

Michalek indicated at the May 26 council meeting there has been some community pushback to reconsider demolition of the former Wells Fargo building.

Engineers will "see if it's possible to convert the Wells Fargo into something else," said Michalek. "There's an idea out there people don't want to get rid of the building itself. So, we're going to take a look at it, figure out the cost of any renovations, then we'll have to make the decision if we're going to keep the building or tear it down and start with something fresh."

Mayor Michael Bablick said there were many issues with keeping the building.

"It's not ADA compliant in any way, so it would be an enormous expense to update. There's no bathroom upstairs, there's no elevator, no fire escape, no second entrance. There's this myth that it's this awesome building. It's not. It's just in good shape, but it's a 60-yearold building. It's not irreplaceable," Bablick commented during the council meeting.

Updates on the overall project will continue to be brought before the council through the summer months, and Bablick said that eventually GRAEF is expected to meet with council members to go into further details on the project.

County to consider ordinance defining health officer's authority

The Price County Board of Supervisors will consider an ordinance defining the duties and authority of county health officer Michelle Edwards at their regular meeting on June 16, following a public hearing.

The county's emergency management committee met on May 28 to discuss the ordinance, which is based on one recently adopted in Door County. The other main topic of the meeting was the possibility of extending the current declaration of a public health emergency due to COVID-19 through Aug. 23.

According to county administrator Nick Trimner, the purpose of extending the state of emergency is to allow the county to remain eligible for any potential relief funds.

The drafted ordinance quotes nearly verbatim from Wisconsin statutes regarding declaring a state of emergency and the duties of a local health officer as laid out by the state legislature, essentially confirming laws that already exist.

State statute allows local government, such as the county board, to declare a state of emergency, which may remain in effect as long as the emergency conditions exist or are likely to exist.

The ordinance further states that should the county board be unable to meet promptly due to the emergency, the county chair and the emergency management committee may make the declaration of a state of emergency — although that declaration would be subject to changes or repeal by the county board at a future meeting.

State statutes declare that upon the appearance of any communicable disease in the county, the local health officer will investigate the circumstances and make a full report to the local governmental body — in this case, the county board — and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. State statutes further allow the health officer to take whatever

measures necessary to prevent, suppress, or control communicable disease, including forbidding public gatherings if deemed necessary.

The health officer is required to report the findings of their investigation to the county board, and the county board or the emergency management committee will review the reports within seven business days to confirm, modify, or cancel any measures taken by the health officer.

The ordinance also spells out the potential ramifications for anyone who violates or obstructs the ordinance, which might include a fine up to $500.

A majority of the emergency planning committee, including Bob Kopisch, Dennis Wartgow, Larry Palacek, Jim Hintz, and Paula Houdek, voted to forward the ordinance on to the county board for deliberation and possible action. Committee member Bruce Jilka cast the sole dissenting vote.

The public hearing will be held at 9 a.m. on June 16 in order to accept questions or comments on the ordinance. The meeting will be held in Room 101 of the Price County Courthouse.

Chequamegon seniors recognized in virtual commencement

The Chequamegon High School class of 2020 was honored in a virtual commencement ceremony published on YouTube Saturday, May 30. The 49-minute video was filmed days earlier in the high school gym. The ceremony combines clips celebrating the senior class throughout their time in school, speeches by students, pre-recorded musical performances, and culminates with snippets of each senior crossing the stage to receive their diploma from their parents.

(Copyright © 2020 APG Media)