Sunday, October 23rd, 2016

Main Street closures affect entire community


Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Jan 26, 2012; Section:Opinion; Page Number:8A

Main Street closures affect entire community
Council has role to play in closing decisions

I haven’t seen that many people at City Hall since we debated building a stadium at Frame Park. Unfortunately, the civility of that debate was absent Monday evening as the Ordinance & License Committee considered a reference by Alderman Kathleen Cummings to consider how to handle street closings for major events.

Because some of the people who raised the issue to the alderman were previously known as opponents of closing the streets downtown for Freeman Friday Night Live, the word went out that the popular event was under attack.

Among those whipping up the frenzy was Mayor Jeff Scrima in an email to many of the business owners downtown. Working behind the scenes for a particular outcome is not showing leadership, and it only adds to the mistrust downtown.

It’s also not very “transparent.”

Also fueling the furor was a folder that was given to committee members containing a sample ordinance for handling street closures. The ordinance said how many portable toilets and how many police officers have to be on duty for a street-closing event, issues that are better off handled informally rather making new laws.

The sample ordinance also raised the issue of how much insurance an event’s organizers should have.

This struck me as a particularly odd question to ask. Don’t all of the businesses downtown have insurance? If I slip and fall on my way out of a bar on a Friday night, why would that be any different than if it happened on a Saturday night?

Not that I’m in the habit of falling down in front of bars, of course.

I mentioned the decorum of the crowd. Unfortunately, personal attacks at Common Council meetings are certainly not unheard of under Mayor Jeff Scrima, and we saw more directed against those who raised legitimate questions about street closings in Waukesha. At the same time, the wife of Alderman Eric Payne should know better than heckling a local business owner, saying that he should move his business to Milwaukee.

But the real disappointment is the unwillingness of some businesses downtown to recognize that the decision to close Main Street is more than a downtown issue. They resented the Common Council even looking at the issue.

Contrary to what some businesses downtown believe, Main Street does not begin at Allo! Chocolat and end at Magellan’s. It’s a main thoroughfare through the heart of the city. I bet many of the attendees (like myself) used Main Street to get to the meeting.

Waukesha still has a reputation for being unnavigable. That reputation affects businesses on Sunset Avenue, the Les Paul Parkway and even Silvernail Road, not just Main Street. If the downtown businesses want to reinforce that reputation by closing off a main artery to the city, then that’s a matter for the entire city to consider.

There are businesses downtown, too, that have legitimate concerns about the streets being closed. The Clarke Hotel is legitimately concerned about their valet parking and their guests not having access. Nice Ash and American* Tattoo both have legitimate concerns how the street closures affect those businesses. Vilifying them for daring to raise those concerns does not help the situation.

Now we hear from the Business Improvement District that they want to add events for Saturday nights, and expand the farmer’s market further into downtown. Waukesha residents have a reason to be concerned that we may see more street closings without any public input into the decision-making.

The mayor is trying to bypass the normal process by creating a special ad hoc committee (with him as chairman) with only representatives from downtown.

By stacking the proposed committee, he’s only adding to the distrust and bad feelings downtown.

I like Freeman Friday Night Live. In fact, I want it bigger and better and to run longer into the night. I think it’s good for businesses downtown (although not all of them), and I’ve certainly done my share of spending on Friday nights in the summer.

But let’s not pretend that there aren’t issues with closing the streets. The best place to consider all of the issues regarding closing Main Street is at the Common Council, where the entire city is represented.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)


*Correction: The article as it appears in the newspaper says Black Dragon Tattoo. The correct tattoo parlor is American Tattoo. My apologies for the error.

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