I wrote previously that I was disappointed in the overall tenor of the crowd at the public information meeting, and I felt that the negative momentum probably carried people into a 'just say no' mantra. (Who knew a park on the lake would set people's hair ablaze?)
That's too bad, because again, I feel like we're onto something. And truthfully, we all agree that SOME thing needs to happen with Muskego's business downtown. However, this is not going to be a discussion on Parkland Mall. With a multi-million dollar lawsuit filed by Art Dyer against the city, we simply can't consider that land in this discussion at this time. Nor should we put everything else on hold to wait for the skies to clear on that subject.
Therefore, I met with Mayor John Johnson, who to his credit, sincerity and integrity gave me 1 1/2 hours of his time without looking at his watch once. Reporters appreciate that.
We did discuss Parkland Mall, and he reiterated his belief that the city is not in the business of purchasing and developing property for business. He also asked me to quote him saying thus: "I will quit before I write out a check to Mr. Dyer for anything more that what that property is worth." (A town hall meeting about 1 1/2 years ago also yielded resident support of that position.)
"I'm a cheap skate, but I'm a good investor," he explained further. "I did take issue with people complaining on one hand that the taxes are too high, yet also complained that we cut 20 staff from the city, which saved the city $1 million. We did so without causing services to suffer as well."
It's not an easy job, and lately it's a frustrating one. While it's true that the Parkland site has been a thorn in the city's side and has probably cost previous mayor's their jobs, Johnson stated at the public meeting and again in our interview that the only constant has been Dyer in the inability to develop the land.
True, and it is no small potatoes that GE Medical and Walmart have developed along Moorland Road and in far less time from the beginning proposals to breaking ground.
We all also agree that business development brings down residential taxes, and it is what we ALL want. What Bring Back the Lake is designed to do is to help define Muskego's identity, something that has been missing for many years. This is a hard concept, because it is based on vision and not something more tangible. However, once a city has an identity and an overall vision for what it wants to 'look like' when people hear its name, businesses can make a better decision to come to that city and develop as a part of that vision.
Johnson also pointed out that it's a bit myopic to view the entire downtown on the PM site. "Truthfully, the whole downtown is an eyesore, as we have businesses, but they are fragmented. In addition, the roadway is deteriorating, which will be helped once the Janesville Road project is underway."
Again, we need to envision - cohesive-looking buildings that look like they were not just converted homes, but that are truly open for business together makes for a more attractive view.
The lake property that is being proposed for park and recreational uses has incredible merit, as most people tend to skip over Muskego en route to the Lake Country to launch their boats or picnic. However, it is just that at this point: a proposal. There is an open door for suggestions from everyone, and it's a point that Johnson also felt slighted on.
"We've met with neighborhood groups on this site, and we sent out 10,000 postcards to tell people about the informational meeting, to which 200 people showed up. I've heard that we've been working on this secretly, but that's simply not the case."
It appears that everything is on the table in this case...and any ideas are welcome. One citizen asked if it were possible to organize a group of residents to approach Dyer separately, which Johnson thought was an excellent idea.
Having grown up on the lake, I don't want the discussion to end here. I have always felt Idle Isle has been inadequate for the amount of interest there is in spending time on the lake (and in it), and until recently haven't thought about the strangeness of the complete lack of a good restaurant on the lake. So, yes, I'm thinking we need to develop there and showcase what put us on the map in the first place. The final product may not look like the current proposal, but that's the point. Resident input may shape an even better plan.
As Johnson indicated, it's about doing the right thing.