City’s south side seeing new growth, but questions loom on future of Bus. 51
By Brandi Makuski
Signs of renewed life have begun to spring up along the south Bus. 51 corridor in Stevens Point, but an uncertain future over the roadway could be holding back a development boom along the arterial road between the city and Plover.
“I think different segments of the city have their own personality,” said Mayor Mike Wiza, “and this segment needs a little work on defining their personality a bit.”
Wiza said the downtown holds a “historic” personality. North Division, he said, is more of a business district catering to pedestrians and motorists alike, largely from the university, Sentry Insurance and nearby high schools.
But city officials agree two main factors have a negative impact on the appearance of the southern corridor: the empty Copps building and uncertainty over the future of Bus. 51.
The former site of Copps Food Center, 3256 Church St., has been empty for almost three years. Both Wiza and Michael Ostrowski, director of community development, agree the space is prime real estate for a grocer, but the building’s owner hasn’t been able to attract interest in over two years.
“It’s definitely been a challenge,” Ostrowski said. “Copps had an advantage because it occupied the space for so long and everybody knew it was there. From what I remember, it brought a lot of pedestrian traffic to the area; people would go there multiple times a week because it was so close, as opposed to your typical trip to Walmart.”
The grocery industry also has several large players, Ostrowski said, like Roundy’s or Super-Valu, which have the resources to improve the building but won’t compete against themselves in the same market.
“A smaller scale grocery isn’t going to work well in that building,” he added. “That building was built with a purpose, and that purpose is no longer there.”
Small improvements are already evident along the south side. The city’s south side corridor- a section of Bus. 51 between Belt’s Soft Serve and Minnesota Ave.- has seen more new businesses than any other part of the city in recent months. Carl D’s opened its ice cream stand in July, followed by The Beat, a new bar and grill, in August.
Water Car Wash and Detail Center, formerly Central Car Wash, completed its expansion on to an adjacent vacant lot last week, and the Church Street Kwik Trip has completed construction and is scheduled to open October 8.
Bucks & Bulls Archery has also seen expansion, having moved one block and a strip mall south, to a larger space on Church Street.
In need of a ‘large’ traffic generator
But several vacancies remain along the corridor, and many existing buildings and parking lots are outdated or in need of sprucing up, Ostrowski said.
“A lot of the buildings are a little older in nature,” he said. “And by bringing in a large traffic generator, that can spur some redevelopment of neighboring properties. It’s that notion of when a person paints their home, the next person might say, ‘Well my home isn’t looking so good, I’d better paint’. Mid-State did that for downtown; it brought a number of students, staff and faculty downtown, who would then patronize the establishments, and that’s what you need in these neighborhoods.”
The addition of Kwik Trip- which appears to have high standards for appearance and cleanliness- could be what starts that snowball effect, Ostrowski said. But the uncertainty surrounding the future of Bus. 51 will likely be one obstacle for any large traffic-generating business that could reinvigorate the corridor.
The elephant in the room
The last formal and clear declaration of abandoning the Bus. 51 project came when former Mayor Andrew Halverson last April announced it would be “put on the back burner”, though the city council has since voted to transfer funds earmarked for the roadway overhaul into the Country Club Drive overpass project.
But the city council can’t forego some kind of discussion regarding the Bus. 51 corridor for long. Ostrowski said he does plan at some point in the near future to ask for some direction regarding safety improvements, as roadway projects often need to be planned years in advance.
“We have to settle the four-lane or two-lane issue,” he said. “It isn’t just a design element and bringing it down to two lanes; there are some weird aligned intersections, some properties with four driveways instead of one. If we’re able to address those, we can make traffic a little smoother and pedestrian crossings a little safer.”
Ostrowski was quick to add little could be done until city officials determine how, if at all, traffic within the corridor will change once the new overpass, construction of which begins in 2017, is complete.
“It’ll be interesting to see how and if the traffic counts change once the overpass is built,” he said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty right now as to what’s happening with Bus. 51. There’s a fear of people locating there because there’s all this uncertainty there. You’ve got to start addressing this; it’s a major artery.”
Regarding what kinds of business might generate excitement along the roadway, Wiza said he’s heard an earful from residents on what they’d like to see locally.
“A lot of people have said, ‘Well, you should open a Red Lobster, an Olive Garden, a Costco’,” Wiza said. “But the city can’t force someone to open a business. A lot of franchises require a certain population density, a certain demographic, before they chose a spot to develop. And we’re not there- yet. But that’s free market.”