Joining forces to spark development

Village, school officials begin exploring collaborative ways to bolster commercial, residential growth in Fredonia
By 
DAN BENSON
Ozaukee Press Staff

With an improving economy and a location that makes it ideal as a bedroom community, Fredonia is poised to make a push forward to develop economically, members of the Village Board and Northern Ozaukee School Board agreed at a joint meeting last week.

“I think we’re on the other side” of the economic downturn that began 10 years ago and which squelched large developments that had targeted Fredonia at the time, Village President Don Dohrwardt said. 

It was the first joint meeting ever held by the two groups and was billed as mostly a meet-and-greet and visioning session without a definite agenda.

Economic development and how to get people to move to the community dominated the discussion.    

“How do we get the village to grow? By attracting one or two large employers?” School Board President Brent Neis asked to kick off the discussion. “It’s not exactly a specialty of the School Board, or the Village Board.”

It’s something to which the Village Board has already turned its attention, officials said.

“Fredonia doesn’t have that golden nugget like a Simplicity or Bolens” that serve as the primary employers of a community,  Dohrwardt said, naming two former companies based in Port Washington.

It’s also unlikely that Fredonia could ever become a shopping destination, as has happened to Grafton, they said.

“The Village of Fredonia will never be home to a big-box store,” Village Trustee T.J. Meyers-Jansky said. “So we want to do things on a smaller level that will entice people to move here.”

One asset Fredonia has is the school district itself, officials said.

The district is in the process of forming an agreement with its second charter school, this one at Riveredge Nature Center, which will feature outdoor classrooms. The other is the Wisconsin Virtual School. They are the only charter schools in Ozaukee County.

Supt. Dave Karrels said the district has a two-pronged focus for the future: improving technical education and working with local businesses to prepare students for careers, and continuing to develop advanced placement and college preparatory courses.

“We want to focus on both ends of that spectrum and help the school and community be a place people want to come to,” he said.

Another thing Fredonia has going for it, meeting participants said, is its location. Being situated on the Highway 57 corridor and equidistant from larger employment and shopping centers like Plymouth, Sheboygan, West Bend, Port Washington, Grafton and Milwaukee makes it ideal as a bedroom community.

“People want to move here because it is in the center of things,” School Board member Stephen Burmesch said.

Until the real estate market collapsed in 2008 Fredonia developments were in the pipeline that had plans to build several hundred homes, mostly to the north and across Highway 57. One was Cobblestone Village across Highway 57 at Martin Drive. Its sign still stands, marked with overgrown weeds.

With the renewed economy, favorable tax atmosphere and accelerating business climate the time may be ripe for those locations to once again become attractive to developers, officials said.

“The village is going to continue moving north,” Dohrwardt said.

Commercial development opportunities within the village’s current borders are limited, however, with only a couple lots available in the industrial park on the village’s south side and its downtown a hodgepodge of older buildings, both commercial and residential.

“Our main street is pregnant with possibilities but we’re not there yet,” Dohrwardt said.

And the village is receptive to business and developers.

“Are we easy to do business with?” School Board member Suzanne Miller asked.

“We like to think so,” said Dohrwardt, adding that the villages fees, property taxes and water rates are all among the lowest in the area.

The village also retired its last tax increment financing, or TIF, district a few years ago. TIF districts divert property tax revenue to help pay for infrastructure supporting the development with the idea that the taxable value of the property will increase once the project is completed.

That capacity to use TIFs puts the village in a position to consider a project should a proposal come forward, Dohrwardt said.

Meanwhile, the village is moving forward to develop a plan to market itself.

Meyers-Jansky heads up the village’s Economic Development Committee, whose first order of business includes developing a brand message for the village, beginning with the formation of focus groups consisting of 24 to 36 people.

The first focus group will meet Sept. 11. Details of that meeting are still being worked out and will be discussed when the Economic Development Committee next meets at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 7, at Village Hall.

People interested in participating in the focus group can e-mail Meyers-Jansky at trusteetj@gmail.com or call the village at 692-9125.

Meyers-Jansky said she hopes a draft marketing plan for the village will be ready by the end of the year.

Another priority of the Economic Development Committee is to launch a beautification effort that includes sprucing up some blighted properties, especially those at the village’s entrances, such as the Cobblestone Village sign. Another is a former day-care center on Fredonia Avenue near Highway 57 at the east end. The property there has been vacant for a few years and is overgrown with weeds and grasses.

Meyers-Jansky and other committee members are reaching out to property owners to find ways to clean up the properties.

The two groups discussed how the village and school district could work together in other areas. One idea was to bring in students from the high school to help the village improve its social media presence and to introduce students to how local government works by having an honorary presence on boards or as interns in the village office.

Members also talked about how the two governments could collaborate on public works projects such as street repairs and storm water drainage and achieve cost savings.

Members agreed they should continue to meet at least once a year.

 

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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