Parking plaza demolition opens Rock River to revitalize downtown Janesville

City creating ‘town square' in the open space
Parking plaza demolition opens Rock River to revitalize downtown Janesville

Crews were clearing rubble out of the Rock River Thursday that was left over from the removal of Janesville’s downtown parking deck.

Downtown business owners have been watching the construction crews closely.

“If I hear loud noises in the back, I’ll go check and see what’s going on. They made a lot of progress back there,” Angie Losee, owner of Angie’s on Main, said.

Once they’re completely done, the city can move forward with its plans to turn the area, between the Milwaukee and Court streets bridges, into a town square.

“[We will] take what we have, improve upon it and transform it into something that becomes really a showplace for the community and specifically for the downtown,” Mark Freitag, Janesville city manager, said.

The $12 million projec t started by changing Milwaukee Street from a one-way to a two-way in 2016. The removal of the parking deck is the next, more visible, reminder to the community that the city is making progress.

“We’re bringing this to reality. We’re going to make it happen,” Freitag said.

Starting this summer, Freitag said work would begin on the west side of the river where a river lawn, raised pavilion and interactive water feature will be built along the shore of the Rock River. The area will also include a small boat dock, pedestrian bridge across the water and stairs to access the river.

“A place where the community can come gather and focus and enjoy this wonderful, natural feature we have that runs right through the center of our downtown and our community,” Freitag said.

Downtown business owners are hoping the new attractions will bring more people to the area.

“I feel like it’ll be good for business down here because it’ll attract more customers, and we need that down here,” Losee said.

Other aspects of the town square plan include adding improvements on the east side of the Rock River and making Court Street two-way. The city will also have the Milwaukee Street bridge replaced and make River Street a festival street, meaning it can be shut down to do farmer’s markets and concerts.

“I think what the community has recognized is we want to have a thriving downtown and so how do we encourage new businesses and residential developments and activity in our downtown?” Freitag said. “And we recognized if we don’t have a reason for people to be here and an opportunity for people to enjoy this great river and our downtown that will never happen.”

The city’s goal is to have the town square project finished by 2020. The town square is part of a larger city revitalization plan called ARISE , which targets the entire expanse of the Rock River that flows through Janesville.

“We’re talking about trails, we’re talking about new residential developments on both sides of the river so that really people can live, work, play and enjoy the history and the natural beauty of the downtown,” Freitag said.