A Square or a Block or a Center by Any Other Name…

It is the busiest time of the year, there is always something going on.  I have to get the accounting records for a half dozen different corporate entities ready for the tax accountant.  I have to get W-2’s and W-3’s out.  I need to get 1096’s, 1098’s and 1099’s out be the end of the month.  And just to make things a little more interesting, I have a fairly aggressive public speaking schedule.  I was in Baraboo on Saturday, Milwaukee (well technically Brookfield) Monday evening and this coming Saturday I will be in Beloit.  Add to this time that I have to get away from the office for snow removal duties, something that is almost impossible to plan around, and you will understand why you have not seen me online much lately.

However, it has been a while since I have written a non-landlord/tenant blog post, and sometime it is good for the soul to just write about something different.

I have been following along with the naming saga for what is currently known as the 400 Block.  Actually, the entire 400 Block project so far has been a fascinating case study.  Has any one single project been able to create this level of heated debate and disagreement over such a long time frame?  I will admit, my personal history in the Wausau area doesn’t go back that far.  I moved here the spring of 1993 after leaving the military.  I moved away late spring of 1995 to finish college.  I then moved back here the summer of 1997 after graduating and have been here ever since.  This project has created more bad feelings than any other project I am aware of… and I am interested if the Wausau area “lifers” can tell me this is the #1 conflict-causing issue of all time.

When the idea was first brought up of leveling an entire downtown block and turning it into green space, there was a great deal of controversy.  After all, the property that was being leveled was generating tax revenue.  Now if something new was to be built, that would continue to generate revenue, but to take a high-value piece of land and turn it into a public green space, there was a fairly large contingent who said we could not afford to lose that revenue.  Of course, the counter to that argument was that this public space would give a reason for people to come downtown, and a successful downtown in the long run would generate more tax revenue.  I have openly admitted that at that time, I was in the “can’t afford to lose the taxable base” camp.  However, I was also fairly new to Wausau and urban planning for that matter… so I don’t know that my opinion was really based on a true understanding of all of the elements at play.  I have also admitted that my original thoughts were wrong and I have conceded that having this public space in the middle of the downtown has actually been a good thing, contributing to our downtown.

The controversy didn’t end there.  Then came the decade long discussion about what to do with the square.  Who remembers the sidewalk “X” versus “O” discussion?  The city could not just sit with a pile of dirt until a final plan decision was made, so they threw some temporary improvements together.  However, these temporary improvements turned out to work really well.  This space became home to a winter ice skating rink and summer concerts.  My personal favorite time down on the Square was for the balloon glow.  So now, added to the “X” versus “O” arguments came a new argument:  What the City already did is great, let’s call it a day.

Once a final plan was finally approved for the 400 Block, this eventually turned into a three way battle with the “Do Nothing More, It’s Just Fine” crowd, the “Let’s Build this Plan” group, and the group that I found myself siding with:  the “I Could Care Less What you Do With It as Long as I don’t have to Pay For It” group.

So, the plan has been decided on, and the funding source has been decided on.  Finally we can put this to rest.

NOPE!  Apparently, it needs a name.

Well fine, how hard can that be?  Apparently, pretty hard.  Have you ever heard about two parents who can’t decide on what to name the kid?  Well, multiply that by like 50,000.  There is the “400 Block” crowd (I am a member of that group), the “City Square” contingent (the favorite of the many of the group that raised over a million dollars in private funding), and then a number of other groups… the “Freedom Square” group even had over a thousand people sign a petition.

As this battle continues, I do have to ask myself… does it even really need a name… an “official” name?  Does every patch of public lawn in this city need to be named?  There is a place I drive past from time to time, I don’t remember right now where it is, but I laugh every time I see it.  There is a median near an intersection.  It is just a grass median, I am guessing about 200 square feet in size (about the size of the average bedroom), why I chuckle when I see this median, is taking up about 10% of it is a wood sign with the name of it (it is actually a park, NOT a road median) and below that, a sign that says “Wausau Parks Department”.

I would be very interested in the conversation and debate that 1) established that road median as a public park, and 2) established a name for said park.

Many might say that by not naming it at all, you are still naming it.  I disagree.  Without a formal name, we will all call it what we call it.  I and many others will call it the 400 Block, and people that we talk to will know what we are talking about.  Others will call it City Square, and people they talk to will know what they are talking about.  It really doesn’t matter what you “officially” name it, people are going to call it what they have come used to calling it.  Whenever naming rights to a stadium are sold, most never use the new name.  How many people knew that the Sears Tower in Chicago is actually no longer the Sears Tower?

Why does every park, every public grassy area need an “official” name?  Really?  This is a serious question, I want to know.  Why does a median get an official name and sign, yet a park that takes up a half of a city block (complete with swing sets, a newly remodeled basketball court, and a really nice slope for sledding) right behind one of my buildings has no such fancy name or sign.  The “10th Street Park” is just that, a park located on 10th Street (where 10th meets Jackson and Forest) and the only sign I see has nothing to do with the park’s name, there is only a sign designating that golfing is not allowed in this park.  (There is no such sign prohibiting golfing on the road median discussed earlier – go figure).

I would really like to say that I don’t care 1) if the large grassy public area in the middle of downtown has a name or not; and 2) if said area has a name, what that name is.  But, if that were completely true, why would I be writing about it?  But… yet… I care – I am getting myself pulled into a battle that I really have no stake in.  It is to the point where if a name other than “The 400 Block” is chosen, I will actually be disappointed.  Why?  I really don’t WANT to care about any of this.  After all, if we sat down to look at how many city leader/staff man hours were already devoted to the name of this… well… I dare say it would be a surprisingly high number.

Or maybe, those of us in the greater Wausau area are not truly happy unless we have a polarizing issue to fight over.  If that is the case, we need to drag this out for as long as we can… because after all, once the work on the block is done and the name is granted… what will we have left to fight over?

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About drrent

Wausau, Wisconsin Landlord, past president of the Wisconsin Apartment Association, Host of the Dr Rent Radio Show on WNRB-LP, 93.3 FM, Wausau, WI
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