Sunday, July 15, 2007

Akcess Denied?

Discussing his vote against the Akcess development project, Tony Palmeri brings up two points that would we would be wise to reconsider, if not dismiss entirely:

The main concern expressed has been that, especially since the developers themselves admit that in all probability 95% of the office tenants will be businesses already in town, the proposal in effect creates more empty space with little likelihood of filling it. Other individuals simply think an office complex is not appropriate for the waterfront for citizen access reasons (i.e. it's really not something the average person has any use for).
Unfortunately, it's hard to divine if these are Palmeri's worries, those of the people he's been speaking to, or (and perhaps the most likely answer) a combination thereof. These are reasonable qualms, but are not necessarily as negative as they would appear.

Let's examine the "access" issue first. The Riverfront is one of Oshkosh's most distinctive features and it is certainly reasonable for the city to allow people access to the river, but there's already plenty of available riverfront land for public use between Lakes Butte des Morts and Winnebago. There's Rainbow/Abe Rocklin (sp?) Parks, the land occupied by UW-O and FVTC, the Convention Center and Leach Amphitheater's strip, etc. None of this precludes a design that could incorporate a promenade-type design that could feature street level retail and/or dining that would be open to people who might not otherwise have business at an office complex. In fact, something like this should be pushed for to encourage pedestrian traffic through the area. So until a blueprint is released featuring a fortress-like structure to be used exclusively by the employees of whatever businesses decide to set up shop there, "access" shouldn't be an issue.

Secondly, I'm not so sure local businesses relocating to a central "downtown business district" is such a bad thing. Yes, in the short term there's a good chance that there would be "empty space" to be filled, but that might be the price of creating a dynamic business district that could eventually become attractive to companies from outside the city. If there is little reason to believe that the space won't get filled (and Palmeri might have a point here), then eventually the very nature of the space will change -- if a developer can't do something with a commercial space then sooner or later he'll punt it off to someone who'll change it to a residential property or something else. Space is not all that hard to fill if you're willing to put some work into it.

The real question here is where does the city want it's empty space to be? Right now the riverfront is empty. It shouldn't be. It's a great piece of real estate in an ideal location for an office complex. The location is ideal for the presumably white collar jobs that would be occupying the building. It's close to the university (hopefully a good place to do a little recruiting), it's got a great view of the Fox spilling into Lake Winnebago, it can be nothing but a boon to the downtown renewal effort, and it will help bring in local tax revenue down the line.

The business with the Chamber building is disconcerting, and if that's a worry there should be assurances that this isn't just some scheme to get the Chamber some new digs -- and those assurances should come with hefty incentives that they not be broken. But right now there's just a stretch of empty land that's not being used and very few people chomping at the bit with alternative ideas of how to use it.

If the riverfront proposal really isn't anything anyone is excited about, then the city should do what Alex Hummel recommended in today's NW: get aggressive about actively searching out a developer that offers up a brilliant idea.

If no one has the inclination to do that, then this might just be the only option the city's left with and at this point that sounds like an idea that few people are crazy about.

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