Support Medford downtown park project plan
A plan to convert a downtown parking lot into a multi-use gathering place and attraction is a good investment in the future for Medford. Unlike previous plans, the one presented at Monday’s Medford City Council committee of the whole meeting addresses and expands on instead of displacing existing uses of the area. It further has the advantage of tying into the more rural and rustic feel of the community rather than attempting to replace it with the glitz of more urban areas.
A special committee has been working on developing ideas for how to redevelop the existing Whelen Ave. parking lot as well as other spaces in the downtown to turn the space into a destination. The hope is that by creating an entertainment and gathering venue in the downtown, it will attract more people who will then bring more business into the downtown.
While this may sound pie-in-the-sky, there are plenty of real-world examples of venue spaces serving as anchors to redevelop, reinvent and reinvigorate downtown retail areas. One only needs to look at the growth that has occurred in downtown Wausau since the addition of their downtown venue space.
The major focal point of the space will be a large shelter which will include enclosed space at one end for bathrooms and a concession serving area with the bulk of it being an open-air shelter.
The addition of public restrooms in the downtown is much needed and will be a boost for those already using the Riverwalk, along with future events. The pavilion space is large enough to easily accommodate the vendors who take part in the downtown farmers market on Tuesdays from late spring through the fall harvest.
Given the unpredictable nature of Wisconsin weather, having a shelter to work under will make it more attractive to both vendors and shoppers. The space will also be ideal for community members to rent out for parties and functions in warmer times of the year. This will take pressure off the existing park shelters which are regularly rented out all summer long.
The proposed addition of a splash pad/ice skating area to the north of the planned shelter would also serve as an attraction for families and even those enjoying their lunch outdoors on a hot summer day.
The project is an example of big picture thinking, while being firmly grounded in the fiscal realities not only of building it, but of maintaining it into the future. The project also has the added advantage of maintaining existing street parking in the area to serve businesses and space users. Having nearby parking is essential for people of any age who live with mobility issues. It is an important consideration in any development plan.
It will take a partnership with public and private investment to make the project happen. Monday’s vote of support by the city council was an important first step as the community works to take it from the drawing board to reality.