October 19, 2017
By David Nordby The Brillion News
BRILLION – “Wow. We finally got over a hurdle.”
Brillion Mayor Gary Deiter said what many Redevelopment Authority Commission (RDA) members and private investors were likely thinking after Brillion City Council unanimously approved the RDA’s downtown redevelopment project and approved the purchase of property in the Main Street Square (old HUB).
The RDA formally unveiled their plan for downtown during a special joint meeting of the council, RDA and Brillion Plan Commission on Monday night and asked for permission to keep moving forward with planning. If the board had said no, private investors in the city were going to begin walking away from planning.
The presentation and discussion with citizen input took nearly two hours but has taken a decade to get to the point of a formal plan and approval. Studies for downtown started 10 years ago. Beginning in 2015, those efforts were revamped focusing on recreation, commercial development, industrial development and land use. More public meetings with the RDA and private investors took place for over six months at the end of 2016 and into this year.
A conceptual map shows what Brillion could look like with a new city hall and apartment building. (Submitted illustration)
The worries have been cited for months by the RDA and business owners. Only 10 percent of people who work in Brillion live in Brillion and there’s concern businesses could follow the Brillion Iron Works in leaving the city as company’s struggle to fill open positions. There are currently around 300 open positions in the city, including 240 at Ariens Company, who offer $2,000 to new workers for moving to Brillion.
“It could happen with other large businesses in town. They could go somewhere else,” RDA member Beth Wenzel said. “We need to think big picture.”
The hope is that an overhaul of downtown and more housing will change the dynamics.
“How long has it been since we’ve put some housing in this community?” Bob Endries asked. “I’ve been reading what’s going on in Wrightstown. Some big stuff. Three major businesses … we need to understand that’s a competitor for our industry in Brillion.”
Monday felt like everyone was on the same page and now that the RDA has council approval, steps will include the purchase of the old T&C building and then move into the first two major phases of planning – a new city hall and an apartment complex. The old T&C building will be purchased for $100,000 with $50,000 coming from a private investor and $50,000 coming from money approved and set aside by city council last year. The proposed deal for the building has already been agreed upon by the owner.
A private relocation of Dollar General is also being discussed out of the public eye. The city currently owns the HUB parking lot, but Dollar General will remain where it is for the time being. Additional residential development is the fourth phase.
A concept of an architectural design of downtown was shown in a video put together by McMahon Group. Other potential concepts in the future for Brillion could include the extension of Jackson Street, a dog park, a retaining pond, senior housing, gathering areas and playground upgrades – though those all would be done after the completion of the main phases downtown and are just ideas.
Calumet County Community Economic Development Director Mary Kohrell, who has been working with the RDA since the resignation of Cheryl Welch, said Monday that Brillion is in a better position than other cities around Calumet County. She also added that they’re not alone in looking for workers. Calumet County has a low unemployment rate and the workforce is expected to be low on workers until 2028, according to studies.
“You really are in a lucky, envious position,” Kohrell said. “Every employer in Calumet County is looking for workers … If I’m an employer that needs to create product and I don’t have enough people to make that product, I may not be able to keep my business. That’s just the reality.”
Please see the complete story in the Octobre 19, 2017 edition of The Brillion News.