An interview with JoLynn Burden, Director of Development & Community Engagement at ARISE Now. Learn more about this project by visiting the ARISE Now website.
By Teresa Nguyen
What is the difference between ARISE and ARISE Now?
ARISE is the city’s downtown plan that was crafted a handful of years ago. It’s the playbook for the downtown, on what we want to see downtown in five, 10 years down the road.
ARISE Now group is a private-public partnership. I am the only paid staff member. The group is dedicated to seeing the ARISE plan play out and add value to it.
In other words, the city brings roads, sidewalks, curbs and gutters for the functionality of things. But ARISE Now, with our $10 million goal, we can come in and use some of that funding for the aesthetically pleasing things.
For instance, Festival Street was a partnership between the city and the ARISE Now group. The city came in and built the street, the speed bumps and new sidewalks. ARISE Now then put in the light poles, the banners and the gateway features, the water feature and the pavilion.
These are the things that are unable to be funded through the city. This way the City doesn’t have to focus on raising taxes or using taxpayer money, and can instead focus on grants, TIF incentives and things like that.
What were some of the factors that planted the seed for revitalization?
For those who have lived in Janesville a really long time, they have seen a lot of downtown development plans which, unfortunately, did not take off for various reasons. Sometimes it was the economy, sometimes the leaders in place or the vision.
We finally had the right group of people who sat around the table together and said, “We need to get this done.” It is a good group of downtown entities who all have the same vision and who are being transparent about everything that’s happening, all have the same goals.
Now is the time! We have a really good group of community leaders, advocates, organizations and city management that are committed to this process.
Do you feel a strong sense of cooperation among the group?
Absolutely, it’s been a really good experience. We have a monthly steering committee meeting where about 18 of us sit together from the City of Janesville, Downtown Janesville, Inc., the Janesville Performing Arts Center, Forward Janesville, the BID group and ARISE Now. We talk about what’s happening in each of our worlds, we come together, go away to get those jobs don, and then come back to the table and make sure we all have that same vision.
We come up with new ideas at the table, too. Like, how can we work with the Rock County Historical Society or the Senior Center, the Hedberg Public Library. There are other entities that we can all find ways to work with, as well!
The Community Pride award is given to an individual, organization or business who has made significant impact on Rock County. What do you feel is the impact ARISE Now has on Janesville and the area as a whole?
It is bringing the community together. In June of 2016, Drywater Productions created a fabulous video for Forward Janesville called, “Community of Choice.” In that video it talked about art, culture, entertainment, our fabulous school district, parks, you name it. What we didn’t have is a thriving downtown.
I think having an inviting downtown is one piece of the puzzle to make your community a place for people to not only come to live, but to want to work and raise their families here. Having a revitalized downtown area, whether it’s retail, restaurants, arts and culture, entertainment, children’s activities, whatever it is, will be a place to enjoy.
It brings people back to their roots, reminding people of growing up, of coming downtown when they were younger, but at the same time we’re bringing in a new generation and creating new history.
Tell me about some of the projects and programs ARISE Now has been working on.
To give a little background on the process, first we set some goals; place making, activating spaces, connecting areas, exploring other opportunities. We felt that in the downtown, with the streets and buildings that are here, that we could make that happen.
We started with removing the parking deck that was deteriorating over the Rock River. This opened up the river, which we weren’t really utilizing. This made people think about this beautiful waterway. It allowed us to work on the west bank of the river to create the public park.
The goal of place making started with this Town Square. We built the JP Cullen Memorial pavilion, added an interactive water feature, a public art piece, which is a beautiful combination of water, music and lights. We have a large grassy lawn area, which is very nice for picnics and events. There are steps down to the river with a pier for a canoe launch.
In 2018 we completed Festival Street, which can be closed down from a vehicle street to a pedestrian street for special events and fun to be had.
What’s in store for future development, future projects?
We started in a central location and we will expand from there. We know that with buildings, parks or walkways we don’t just end with that.
The second goal is activation, which is a really neat partnership with the Downtown Janesville, Inc. group. They are very good at activating spaces, creating events like Flannel Fest, Wine Walks, Meander Downtown, Jolly Jingle. They are great at not only bringing local residents downtown, but in bringing people here from outside the community, as well. So, that partnership will continue.
We’re looking into the buildings that are here. Are there opportunities to preserve the historical architecture? Can we work on the façade? We have some façade grants available from DJI and the City.
In 2019 you’ll see the Milwaukee Street Bridge being rebuilt.
Also, this summer, we’ll start building the Blain Gilbertson Family Heritage Bridge, which is a pedestrian bridge connecting the west bank of the river with the east bank. This is made possible by the Blain Gilbertson family, one of our lead donors in ARISE Now and for the pedestrian bridge.
It’s really an art piece in the making. The bridge will have a center art sculpture and throughout the bridge there will be benches and side panels with artwork that will reflect our community, businesses and commerce.
We have an art committee helping to plan and continue to add public art pieces. The first one was the planter kaleidoscope, a relatively small piece compared to some that will be coming in.
Late summer of 2019, we’ll have a donor wall. We’re working with artists from around the country to determine what that is going to look like. It will feature our donors of $10,000 or more. We’re planning for it to be an eye-catching art piece, as well.
In 2020, the east side of the river will be completed with parking and a pavilion added behind Olde Towne Mall.
Then, the SOCO River Walk, short for “South of Court Street,” will be added from Court Street down to the Janesville Performing Arts Center. It will go right in front of Reflections Plaza and in front of the Hedberg Public Library, as well.
We want to use the river walkways as a connecting piece, to get people walking and out walking between these buildings and through the buildings. Sometimes you park, go in, then get in your car and leave. This allows an opportunity to walk through our community and explore. I think in years to come we’ll see more public art pieces, more opportunities for learning our history through the Blackhawk Community Credit Union Legacy Center and Reflections Plaza.
What does the Community Pride Award mean to ARISE Now and to you?
I’m kind of the face of ARISE Now, but it’s such a dedicated group of leaders and volunteers in this community. We take such pride in being recognized like this. It’s been many years in the making. A lot of people have thought about the ‘what ifs’ and asked, “Can we bring the right group of folks together?”
It feels good to be recognized for this community award. People are recognizing that this is the right direction. We want our kids and grandkids to come back here and live, to know that there’s employment here and culture here. We want to make it home.
Are you excited about the 2019 History Makers event?
I absolutely am! I think it will be a wonderful event and, certainly, all those who are being honored are a testament to what’s happening in the community.
We appreciate the RCHS for honoring us, together with these individuals and organizations who are all doing their part and doing good work in our community.