By Kris Leonhardt
MARSHFIELD – If you build it they will come is the concept behind a larger effort that is working to make Marshfield’s downtown a destination and rejuvenate what was once the nucleus of the city.
When completed, the effort will create a catalyst that will encourage a vibrant downtown, with entertainment, increased dining and retail, and elevated foot traffic.
While significant elements of the rejuvenation effort are currently in progress, Marshfield Director of Development Services Josh Miller said that the steps being taken are continuing strides in a nine-year process.
“Aside from when Veterans Parkway was constructed, I think the most significant changes in the downtown have taken place in the past nine years,” Miller said. “The reconstruction of South Central Avenue was completed in 2009 and since that time, basically the entire infrastructure of the downtown core has been reconstructed, the new Everett Roehl Marshfield Public Library was built, dozens of façades have been renovated, and a number of offices have moved or expanded into the downtown.
“A lot of really great improvements have been made to the downtown already and we look forward to continue working with the businesses, property owners, residents, and organizations on ways to improve and enhance the downtown now and in the future.”
The Wenzel Family Plaza
The Wenzel Family Plaza will serve as a multiuse, year-round gathering space for the community for events, relaxation, art, and entertainment, and is being built with a combination of city and private funds, which includes a large contribution by the Wenzel family, creators of Wenzel Farm Sausage.
“I believe the Wenzel Family Plaza will be a significant boost to the downtown and has the potential to bring people from all over, not just the Marshfield area, to the downtown,” Miller said.
Marshfield is joining a growing number of municipalities following on the successes of established public plazas, such as the Rapid City, SD, Main Street Square, which sees 600,000 visitors each year.
The plaza is currently being constructed on land that previously served as parking space and an abandoned space that was once the home of the Marshfield News Herald. The plaza is scheduled to be completed before the 2018 Farm Technology Days is hosted near Marshfield.
“The hope is to have the Plaza opened by mid-July,” Miller explained. “Main Street Marshfield, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Marshfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Chestnut Center for the Arts, and the City are working together to hire a coordinator to help with programming and the overall activities within the Plaza.
“With all the events and people attending those events, we are hoping additional dining and entertainment related businesses will be attracted to the downtown.”
The Second Street Corridor
“The intent of the Second Street Corridor is to really improve on the connection between the Everett Roehl Marshfield Public Library and Steven J. Miller Park to Central Avenue and the downtown,” Miller explained. “The idea was to have significant landscaping, art installations, traffic calming, street amenities, and other bicycle and pedestrian improvements to tie these resources together.
“While the Second Street Corridor project concept has been around for a while, the 2015 Downtown Master Plan provided more direction than we previously had. That, plus the availability and acquisition of the News-Herald and Professional Building made the first two phases of the Second Street Corridor a possibility.”
The conversion of a portion of Second Street – between Chestnut and Maple Avenues – has already created one-way traffic, street amenities, and landscaping improvements in the two-block section.
“With the Wenzel Family Plaza set to open this summer, the focus can be shifted to the third phase of the project, the redevelopment of the area along Second Street, west of Chestnut Avenue,” said Miller. “Additionally, we have always had a very linear downtown running essentially north and south. The Second Street Corridor would have the effect of expanding the downtown core more east and west.”
Miller said that the first step is to develop and adopt a redevelopment plan for the west Second Street Corridor area.
“In concept, we view it to be an extension of the existing Second Street Corridor just to the east of this area,” he added. “This would include a more pedestrian friendly corridor with amenities and landscaping. The potential types of development in this area could include a mixed use that has a combination of restaurant, retail, residential, hospitality, recreation, or office space. Those are just a few examples but nothing has been defined at this time.”
The city anticipates having a vision developed by the end of 2018.
Marshfield’s Façade Improvement Program has encouraged exterior building improvements, since its initiation in 2009.
The program continues into 2018 after the city’s Economic Development Board recently decided to infuse another $50,000 from their Revolving Loan Fund to continue what they see is a successful program in the rejuvenation of downtown buildings.
In addition to front facades, the 50-50 match program with building owners has been extended to rear facades, ADA accessibility elements, and upgrading gravel areas to hard surface.
“There seems to be a lot of interest in the Downtown Façade Program,” Miller stated. “So, if we can continue to find ways of funding that program, I think that will help downtown businesses and property owners to find ways for improving the downtown… Also, the redevelopment of the building that currently houses City Hall will have the potential to have a major impact on the downtown.”
In addition to the façade program and redevelopment City Hall, new and previous building owners are working to revive the downtown area as well.
Most notable is the redevelopment and redesign of the former Penney Court into the Blodgett Haus, by owners Chris and Erin Howard, to create a co-working, shared space environment.
The Howards recently purchased the building at 201 South Central Avenue – now known as the Deming Building, in honor of an attorney who practiced there in the late 1890s – opening it up for nine tenants
“We truly believe that we can create a destination downtown,” Erin said. “When I tell this to some people, they kind of look at me like I am crazy, but there is absolutely no reason (why not.) We live in the center of the state, we have a beautiful clinic, and we have a lot of professional services that live here and work here. There is absolutely no reason why we can’t take a population of 19,000 – but really, it’s 34,000 on a given day – and create a destination.
“We were big advocates for the Second Street Corridor – we definitely believe in it. We believe in the plaza – we are heavily a part of that as well.”
“We knew that we wanted (the Deming Building,) and we bought that building,” Erin said. “Our main focus was to get a restaurant. We didn’t care how long it would sit there vacant, as long as we found a restaurant.
“Our belief for a lot of our buildings is it’s not about filling the space, it’s about finding the right tenants – ones that are very like-minded like us, where we believe in the vision of the downtown.
“That is why we were so blessed to have met Matt and Jen, because they also (believe in the downtown) along with our other tenants.
Matt and Jen Olson are the owners of what will be Marshfield’s newest downtown restaurant, MoJo’s Pasta House and Cajun Cook Shack.
MoJo’s, plus eight other tenants, will fill both upstairs and downstairs of the Deming Building. MoJo’s owner Jen says that the restaurant will be like “dinner at the Olson’s.”
“We love pasta, we love Italian, and if we get hungry for it, there isn’t anyone in town really that specializes it,” she said. “Places serve it, but nobody really has a focus on that, so we saw that there was a need for that,
“If we are doing this, it speaks the most about us – the pasta and the Cajun – just because that everything on our menu is pretty much (our) family favorites over the years.
The style of the restaurant will be fast-casual, which the Olsons say is a growing trend in restaurants.
“We were up in Minneapolis over the summer, and we were at a food truck festival, and that was part of the workings of the concept of the restaurant: How can we produce food that is fresh, that is of good quality, that can get to the people quickly, and how can we do that?
“So, we looked at kind of a food truck – if you look at the restaurant as kind of a food truck without wheels.
“As far as the fast-casual concept, there are not a lot of restaurants out there that are doing it… I don’t that there are any in the area that are doing what we hope to accomplish.”
Jen says that the choice of location had much to do with the support from the Howards, as well as “the entire process that the downtown is going through and the leaps and bounds of the things over the last couple of years – the big changes. We want to be part of that, part of the downtown culture, and be part of helping that thrive and grow.”
MoJo’s Pasta House and Cajun Cook Shack will open sometime before Dairyfest, in early June.