JANESVILLE — The dream of southside Janesville residents for a new, full-service grocery store will only come about when other development is spurred on by a commitment from the city council.
That was the consensus at a forum Wednesday sponsored by the Rock County Civics Academy that brought together community leaders from Janesville and Madison, which has grappled with similar issues along its south Park Street corridor.
- Daniel Rolfs, Community Development Project Manager for Madison’s Economic Development Division
- Kristie Maurer, Maurer’s Urban Markets
- Gale Price, VP of business development at Blackhawk State Bank and former city of Janesville Economic Development Director
- Heather Miller, Janesville City Council member
Rolfs said that the city of Madison used a variety of funding tools to make the economics work for Maurer’s Urban Markets to come to south Park Street just as another local grocery is set to close.
The city of Madison worked with developers of an affordable housing project to purchase space for Maurer’s and fund the build out of the store. Maurer’s will then reimburse the city for some of the costs through its lease payments, Rolfs said.
Janesville city leaders typically take a hands-off approach when it comes to commercial development, and it’s unlikely a grocery store would decide to locate along the Center Avenue corridor on its own, Price said.
“We’re only 30 miles apart, but we have totally different approaches,” Price said.
What the city needs to develop is a comprehensive, long-term strategic plan for the southside that incorporates not only a grocery, but other growth as well, Price said. Currently there is no such plan.
A plan also would be a first sign that the city is making the southside a priority.
Maurer said its unlikely a typically grocery chain would come to the southside because they have one way of doing their stores. Instead, the city should look to other, independent grocers to partner with who have the flexibility to come up with a business model that works.
Rolfs said that in Madison, the city stepped in to correct what he called a market failure, and city leaders were able to create the political will to make sure the area was not without a grocery.
Miller, a southside resident herself, said she’s had multiple conversations with people in city hall about the southside, but the city council has yet to make it a priority.
She’s also been talking to incoming city manager Kevin Lahner about the issue.
“I’m hopeful we can come up with a plan for the southside,” she said. “One of the biggest hurdles … is to get the city council on board.”