It took a little longer than we wanted and it was bumpier than we hoped, but the Redevelopment Authority (RDA) is harnessing the energy for change. With the recent demolition of the historic Blacksmith Shop and the recent commitment to work with Brink LLC of Madison (and the city) on a developer’s agreement, two benchmark events are pointing to a “go” position for the riverfront project for 2020 and beyond.

At the same time, the RDA’s Downtown Revitalization Subcommittee continues its strong leadership to oversee the development of a dynamic and inspirational plan to keep the downtown fresh and alive for businesses and residents. The subcommittee met with community leaders via focus groups and is now seeking input from citizens until early October. On Oct. 1, they will be holding an open house at the Lageret that will serve as a mini-charette to share ideas and needs in a friendly atmosphere.

These two parallel initiatives come at a great time for Stoughton’s downtown and the community in general. Downtowns, any downtowns, wear out with age and the economics that supports businesses changes with consumer demand and time. Businesses that were strong 10 years ago can become dated with technology changes or competition from outlying businesses.

It is no simple matter keeping downtowns viable in this world. A Hub article from this summer noted the struggle that several downtown businesses were facing. Some turnover is healthy, but excessive turnover points to other concerns.

The RDA is aware of the fragile nature of downtowns and that is why we are so pleased to have a developer, Brink LLC, who shares this concern and is dedicated to making sure its development actions enhance downtown vitality. It is now becoming easy to imagine that the 200 to 400 new residents of the riverfront project area will be taking their turn to strengthen downtown businesses and culture through their shopping, dining, and walking presence. And, if we are fortunate to see the Whitewater Park built over the next three years, that will provide even more fuel for our downtown economic engine.

This fall and winter will be critical for the RDA’s two downtown initiatives. Lots of discussions will be held between many parties even as consultants begin their work to scope out engineering and planning needs. It is an exciting time for Stoughton, and the RDA is committed to making sure the downtown will have a destiny befitting a city that remains one of the strongest and most historic small cities in Wisconsin.

Roger Springman

City of Stoughton