Wrapping it up: A weekly update with Wisconsin Rapids Mayor Shane Blaser
By City Times staff
This week, the mayor touches on the possibility of a coop at the Verso Mill and UniverCity Year programs.
The possibility of a coop at the Verso Mill
“At the July 15 Wisconsin Rapids Together Task Force meeting, Henry Schienebeck, executive director of Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association, announced that an effort to consider the purchase of the mill by a multi-stakeholder co-op was being accelerated in light of Verso’s decision,” Mayor Blaser recalled. “The group is looking into the possibility of creating multiple, connected co-ops between loggers, mill workers and the community – working together to own and run the mill.”
The mayor said that there are still many unknowns, “such as products, partners and timing, but we know that there will be a significant effort needed to organize this kind of co-op and we won’t know if it is feasible for a while yet. Schienebeck and his colleagues are learning from a similar effort in Quebec, while also meeting with potential stakeholders (including the City of Wisconsin Rapids) to discuss how the co-op arrangement might function,” he said.
“Staying informed can provide great comfort during uncertain times, so I encourage those interested in continuing to learn more about work being done to secure a vibrant future for affected employees and the city’s paper mill to check out the Wisconsin Rapids Together Task Force’s website at legis.wisconsin.gov/rapidstogether and the city’s Resources and Impact Mitigation page at wirapids.org/mill-idle-resources-and-impact-mitigation.
UniverCity Year program developments
“In July, the Finance and Property Committee voted against fully supporting the $25,000 program commitment to UniverCity Year (UCY). They cited a number of concerns, including a lack of planning and transparency around budgeting for this item, and project development that excluded alderpersons. The Finance and Property Committee then voted to pay for the UCY’s work to date, contingent on an itemized invoice,” Mayor Blaser said.
“Staff then met with UCY’s Managing Director, Gavin Luter, to discuss ending the relationship. Gavin presented an option to continue the engagement without the city incurring any additional costs; he cited the value of work already done on the city’s projects, the relationships and opportunities for classes already matched with projects, and the city’s commitment of staff time toward project work. The itemized invoice was approximately half the original $25,000 agreement; Gavin plans to work with the city to take the projects to UW-Madison alumni and/or area businesses to raise the remaining funds.
“In the interest of transparency and inclusive decision-making, the option to continue our UCY engagement was presented to the Finance and Property Committee on Tuesday evening, and the Finance and Property Committee agreed to continue the relationship without incurring any additional costs from UCY.”
In a statement to the Finance and Property Committee, Gavin said, “We are confident that you all will find these deliverables helpful to advance discussions about economic development, arts, humanities and branding.”
This summer, city staff has been working with students to create public relations and marketing plans for downtown parks and the Wisconsin Rapids Recreation Complex, including the Aquatics Center.
The remaining projects, to begin as soon as the fall semester, include:
Cultural Diversity Initiative to create cultural opportunities in the community and/or a collaborative group responsible for this work, to celebrate and honor the racial, ethnic and cultural diversity in the region – both, historically and presently.
Arts Collaborative to create unification between arts organizations through marketing, strategy and information sharing.
Centralized Place for Community Information to create an online central community events calendar. The project group may also create a user-friendly landing page containing an events calendar, community information and economic data, including links to organization websites.
Parks & Recreational Programming Plan & Underutilized Spaces Review & Update to survey the existing parks and underutilized city properties, and develop a strategy and programming to address weaknesses.
City Policy Support for Public/Outdoor Arts & Public Arts Inventory to create a public art inventory of the city, upgrade city policy and requirements for establishing art in the community, and upgrade community engagement around public art.
Flood Mitigation Design Alternatives to use the flood study that is currently underway to provide a preliminary design report, design, bidding/contract documents and cost of construction phase services.
Those interested in learning more or participating on a project team should contact the mayor’s office at [email protected].