Mequon, Thiensville still brainstorming ideas on how to attract businesses, residents
Stakeholders must act, promote with one vision
Representatives from the city of Mequon, village of Thiensville, Mequon-Thiensville School District, and Mequon-Thiensville Chamber of Commerce voiced their thoughts on local issues and fielded questions Feb. 23 in the third Community Conversation between interested residents and local officials.
The community conversation series began last May when community members and officials began asking each other where Mequon and Thiensville were, where they were going, and how they could get there. A task force was assembled to answer these questions, and presented its recommendations in October last year, communicating a list of priorities and potential improvements Mequon and Thiensville should have in mind as they move forward.
Mequon Mayor Curt Gielow, Thiensville Village President Karl Hertz, Mequon-Thiensville Chamber of Commerce President John Richmond, and Mequon-Thiensville School Board Member Ann Brownfield took to the stage in an MATC lecture hall to report on the steps the groups are taking to act on task force recommendations.
"It's imperative that we have a shared vision with the community," Hertz told the crowd, "and the city and village should collaborate and invest to maintain the quality of service they provide."
One of the key issues raised by the education task force subcommittee and addressed at the community conversation was the combination of declining school enrollment and the aging population of Mequon and Thiensville residents, which is straining the district and necessitating cost-saving measures.
Brownfield said that the School Board should complete its strategic planning in the spring, which should help the district work with less money and fewer students.
"I cannot emphasize enough the importance of (the strategic plan) in helping us to have a vision in order to make the difficult financial decisions we have to make because of our declining enrollment," Brownfield said.
Hertz said that the district should be able to maintain its quality, despite declining enrollment.
"Being smaller doesn't make you a poor school district," Hertz said. "Academic excellence need not be compromised by the district's enrollment."
He's wary of the idea that building more houses would solve the problem. He said that, while superintendent, he estimated the need for 100 new homes per year to maintain enrollment, or 200 a year to increase it.
"If the answer is to come from housing," said Hertz, "you're talking about a lot of housing."
Brownfield agreed, saying that building homes wouldn't work as a quick fix.
"You have a community at a very different point that it was fifteen or twenty years ago, so it's not just as simple as building more houses to fix a school district," said Brownfield. "It's not an immediate solution, but it's part of a long-term strategy that could make a difference for the district."
Gielow said that Mequon is targeting tax-incremental financing districts in an effort to reinvigorate certain areas.
"We developed some strategies to promote new investment and redevelopment of the Town Center area," said Gielow, "and talked about the relatively tired, somewhat antiquated properties that could stand for rehabilitation, particularly in the Port Washington corridor south from Mequon Road to County Line Road."
Mequon will be using "pay-as-you-go" TIF districts in upcoming projects in an effort to entice developers and spur investment, Gielow said.
"The developer would buy the property and, for example, promise to add a million and a half dollars of value," explained Gielow, "then they would be eligible for some TIF mechanism. We participate to the point that allows them to blade down to the bare earth again those old building that are on those properties."
Mequon is also looking into housing, according to Gielow, despite some complications.
"We're constricted somewhat by sewer service areas," Gielow said. "We are diligently reviewing areas of the city where housing could be developed."
Hertz said that Thiensville is open to moving forward, but the options are limited.
"If we are to have development, it pretty much has to be redevelopment," said Hertz. "There are a few business lots along Main Street, but for all practical purposes, the housing part is finished, unless somebody takes one of those lots and proposes housing for them.
"I don't know that we would be against that, but we have very limited places," he said.
Communication and branding
Task force recommendations call for increased communication and collaboration between Mequon and Thiensville. Gielow and Hertz agreed that communication is vital, and that they already communicate in a limited capacity.
"Intergovernmental cooperation is not a new idea," Gielow said. "We may not be doing it in as sophisticated a manner as may be required, but we are doing it."
Mequon is in the process of creating an intergovernmental cooperation committee, tasked with communicating and collaborating with Thiensville, which should come together after a March resolution, said Gielow.
Richmond said that the Chamber of Commerce is encouraging the formation of an "alliance group" composed of local nonprofits, civic, cultural, educational, religious, and philanthropic organizations, as well as service clubs.
"Our goal is to increase communication between those groups," Richmond said, "to cross pollinate if you will, the ideas and concepts for the various community activities."
The Chamber of Commerce, according to Richmond, should serve to stimulate a relationship between local businesses and local government.
"We will be the catalyst in initiating the invitation, establishing the agenda, and getting the proactive approach to having our local government and business officials meet on a regular basis, so we have an idea of what is going on," Richmond said.
The task force also emphasized the creation of a Mequon-Thiensville brand, which is also under consideration currently by Mequon and the Chamber of Commerce.
Thiensville resident Allen Caucutt said during the question and answer portion that Mequon and Thiensville should be taking advantage of its local resources to establish a brand.
"We have four good schools where we could develop (a brand): Concordia, UWM, MATC, and the Homestead art department," said Caucutt. "The four (municipal) groups could come together, develop a bunch of words and images, give them to the artists, and let them develop that visual brand."
Task force Co-Chairman David Rosomer said that together, Mequon, Thiensville, the School District and Chamber of Commerce could be a strong marketing force.
"Jointly sell the community to outside groups," Rosomer told the officials. "We've got great things to promote and if you're out there promoting them as a group of four that would be powerful."
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