Monday, August 19th, 2019

Spillover into the hallways and onto Main Street


A lot of passionate people, a standing room only crowd, tonight at the city of Waukesha’s Ordnance and License committee meeting tonight. I got there late and discovered that the extra chairs in the press area were gone. That meant I got to stand out in the hallway making sarcastic remarks.

George made me say those things.

The debate tonight was about putting some controls on street closings, and a model ordnance was referred to the committee by Alderman Kathleen Cummings. It’s probably excessive, but it does raise some good issues that the Common Council should discuss.

Some of the questions struck me as a little silly. Really, insurance? So if I get drunk at a downtown bar and “slip & fall” (in the personal injury attorney parlance) on a Saturday night, it’s somehow different than if I do it on a Friday night? How much more liable is the city going to be if it doesn’t close the streets (despite the police recommendation) for Freeman Friday Night Live and someone gets hurt by a passing motor vehicle?

We should also be grateful that some of the issues are the result of the event’s success rather than its failures. Because Freeman Friday Night Live has grown so popular, there are going to be issues that were unthought of in previous years. More porta-johns would not be a bad thing, especially given the surprising number of businesses that don’t even have bathrooms for the public.

The organizers should also consider having an ambulance service of some kind stand by, although the hospital is all of five minutes away. Oh, wait, that was before the street was closed.

I’m just not sure that these are issues that should be tacked onto a city-wide ordnance on street closings. Seems to me that they could be handled by a helpful suggestion from the Council to the BID and the Downtown Business Association.

I’d suggest Mayor Jeff Scrima take the lead but he’s made it clear behind the scenes that he’s opposed to any involvement by the Common Council in setting policy for downtown. It’s silly and spiteful, but it’s Scrima.

On the other hand, I think some of the businesses downtown tend to forget is that Main Street doesn’t begin at Casa Del Rio and end at Magellans. It’s an artery to the city, right to the heart and out again. If we expand the closings of Main Street beyond the current schedule, the city will only enhance it’s reputation as unnavigable. Yet more closings is a reasonable fear when there is already talk of expanding the farmer’s market further into downtown and creating a Saturday night event.

Adding to the fear is the mayor’s new tendency to create special committees to look at issues that already can be dealt with by the standing committees of the Common Council. There really is no reason for a special committee on parking, nor is there a need for a special committee to handle public art like the Gibson Guitars. (By the way, is that going to be a good discussion soon, like who is going to pay for their installation?)

So when the mayor creates a special committee to look at street closings, it’s understandable that some people get a little concerned about what’s coming. It also does not exactly meet the definition of transparency, does it?

I like Freeman Friday Night Live. I want it bigger and better, and to go on later. I want more businesses downtown to be involved, and I want more happening on the streets. More food, more entertainment, more people.

I want more noise.

I disagree with those who say it isn’t good for shopping, and I’ve seen the evidence with my own eyes, not to mention paid for it out of my own wallet.

But it won’t just be Nice Ash and some local residents inconvenienced by additional street closings. Adding to Waukesha’s reputation as impossible to drive through will hurt the entire city, not just downtown. Whether a business is on Sunset or Silvernail, if Waukesha becomes thought of as impossible to drive through because of downtown then those businesses will be hurt, too.

The entire city needs to be concerned about what happens on Main Street, and the best place for those decisions to be made are at the Common Council. My advice to the council, and to the residents raising their concerns about the street closings, is to reach beyond the downtown businesses to get the input of everyone on what makes sense for the entire community.

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