Making a Better Point: What It Will Take

Our city faces a choice between stagnation and renewal. On the city council we’ve been working on the updates needed in order to build a 21st Century version of Stevens Point, but we also need a mayor who’s ready to tackle those challenges.

 

The good news is that making a better Point will preserve and build upon our community’s strength. Renewal means shaping a city that older and younger generations alike can call their own. It’s a task that generation after generation faces in order to remain vibrant. Our parents and grandparents addressed their own challenges to modernize, they would expect nothing less of us. The major tasks are fourfold, and this campaign is about meeting them:

 

A Thriving Local Economy

Meeting Housing Needs

Enacting Real Sustainability

Our Higher Education Neighbors

A Thriving Local Economy

Keeping sight of the whole picture and the whole community, economic vitality is about all of Stevens Point’s businesses—from the largest employers to the local shops and restaurants to home-based entrepreneurs—as well as our local workers and customers. This is why, during Meleesa’s time as City Council President, the Council has emphasized real estate development and investment that combine residential and commercial uses. Mixed-use development gives residents convenient shops and restaurants and gives local businesses a strong customer base. That’s why Meleesa supports:

  • Developing Downtown and North Division due to their particularly high potential for both economic vitality and high-value real estate for our tax base. To make the downtown section of Clark Street more walkable, the way Main Street is, we need to convert it to two-way traffic.
  • Exploring new possibilities on the Church Street and Highway 10 corridors. While both of these corridors have developed as traditional car traffic-oriented commercial strips, Meleesa has called for new planning to see how those parts of our local economy can thrive.
  • Strengthening the one- or two-block business districts dotted through Stevens Point’s residential areas. Not every neighborhood is set up to have its own Ice Cream District, but we should support and encourage local shops where we can.
  • Making Stevens Point ideal for entrepreneurial success. In their ruling on an appeal from a local maker, the Zoning Board of Appeals highlighted the need to update the city’s ordinances on home-based businesses. With more and more people pursuing their ideas for new businesses, the City should work to make sure entrepreneurs have what they need.

Meeting Housing Needs

Stevens Point shares some common affordable housing challenges with the rest of Wisconsin and the country as a whole. Too many of our neighbors are having to spend too great a share of their household budgets on rent or a mortgage—while others make due on couches or in shelters, lacking suitable housing for their situation. Too many have postponed home ownership because of the “missing middle” in our local supply of homes. As part of updating Stevens Point to make sure longtime as well as newer residents all feel that they belong here, Meleesa believes it’s crucial to meet the full range of housing needs:

  • According to the United Way’s ALICE Report (asset limited, income constrained, employed) 51% of Stevens Point residents are either living in poverty or fall into ALICE categories. This is a recipe for housing insecurity and homelessness.  Far too many fall through the cracks because of fragmented support services.  When the current administration told stakeholders the City played no role in solving this problem, Meleesa rolled up her sleeves and developed a plan for comprehensive “wrap around care.”  This model emphasizes coordination between support services as a path for people/families in crisis toward greater stability.
  • After months of deliberation, the Housing Taskforce recently called for loosening the zoning that limits the number of household members beyond a family to just one. At a time of severe housing shortage, this cuts off an important option for co-living. Rather than supporting completely removing the restriction, Meleesa is leading the search for a compromise solution. If everyone brings an open mind, she knows that the community is capable of finding a workable middle-ground—that we can have a constructive debate more like we did for accessory units than the brawl over Business 51.
  • As part of its support for mixed-use development downtown at on North Division, the City Council has built a strong record of facilitating new apartment buildings such as the Reserve, Berkshire, and North Side Yard. Some of those units have been set aside for below-market rents—likewise at the complex on the convent site—while others put downward pressure on rents by easing demand for less expensive apartments. But Meleesa believes it’s time to focus on developing a broad range of housing unit options, including detached homes, town homes and tiny homes, which could starting filling the “missing middle” and offer starter homes to potential buyers who have put off home ownership.

Enacting Real Sustainability

As temperatures set record highs nearly annually, the need to de-carbonize our national and global economy has become glaringly obvious. The question is whether our community will do our part—will we change how we use energy to help cut the emissions of greenhouse gases? Just as important, will we build the resilience to cushion us against climate change's worst effects? Meleesa sees numerous opportunities to buckle down to it:

  • Walkability and bicycle infrastructure is sustainability. The City Council’s efforts to promote walkable neighborhoods and facilitate bicycle commuting will help cut down on greenhouse gas emissions from driving (it also relates to changing demographics, as the rising generation drives dramatically less than their parents). As a prelude to setting goals to reduce these emissions, Meleesa’s administration will measure the estimated total miles driven within our community.
  • Having the City government’s own carbon emissions house in order means tracking the City's energy use. Over the course of several conversations and meetings, one member of the Council was talking with the current mayor about setting up a reporting system to monitor the use of electricity in the City’s buildings and fossil fuels in its vehicle fleets. We know that City staff have implemented a wide range of measures to save energy, but we’ve neglected to measure the impact. Because the discussion dragged on without follow-through by the mayor, the councilmember back-burnered his initiative. As mayor, Meleesa will put an energy tracking system in place.
  • Getting community solar cooperatives into the mix. One of the challenges for green energy has been to make room for it in utility regulations. A key battlefront on this is to allow communities to establish solar energy cooperatives, which Meleesa will push for.

Our Higher Education Neighbors

Stevens Point has a rich history as Central Wisconsin’s hub of post-secondary education.  From UWSP’s late-19th Century beginnings as a teachers college to its current rich menu not only of a wide range of undergraduate degrees, but also graduate and doctoral programs.  Likewise Midstate’s growth from modest technical school to an expansive technical college.  These institutions are critical for the city’s economic growth, including the burgeoning creative economy of entrepreneurial makers, and the City’s collaboration with them is crucial to ensure success for all.

  • UWSP recently issued its Purpose Made Possible: A Plan for Strategic Action. While many of the goals of this plan are internal to the campus, "Strategy 4" is focused on creating connective tissue between the campus and community.  The City must be a partner in this strategy for both the success of the campus and the community. This also includes increasing internships and apprenticeships within city government.
  • The foundation of more effective partnership is greater understanding of the goals and ideas of the entities—meaningful and productive dialogue focused on outcomes. This starts by being present, involved, and open to the ideas and needs of students.  An essential step will be to create a student leader ex officio position to the Common Council, along with city administration attending Student Senate meetings.
  • With the start of each academic year, our city grows by 5,000-7,000 residents.  And as each of those members of our community complete their academic careers, all too often they leave, never to return.  Retaining this great asset starts with creating a community that is welcoming, a place where they have a strong sense of inclusion and belonging.  Developing a system of community orientation welcoming events in the Council districts adjacent to the campuses would show the students they are indeed valued and encouraged to stay to build their careers.