By Lee Reinsch
DE PERE – A strip of roadway formerly known as James Street Parkway became Michael J. Walsh Plaza July 14 as the city officially dedicated and renamed the space in honor of the former longtime mayor.
Dozens of people gathered in the paved commons to honor Walsh, including city staff, past and present common council and commission members; friends, members of Walsh’s family; representatives of fire and police, and downtown organizations; and even Walsh’s former dental hygienist.
He retired in April of 2020 after 24 years as mayor.
Current De Pere Mayor James Boyd opened the plaza dedication ceremony with a message of thanks to his predecessor for his nearly four decades of service to the city.
“We’re immeasurably grateful for the efforts of Michael J. Walsh,” Boyd said. “De Pere is a much better place because of you.”
Boyd also had an observation about Walsh’s new status as a person after whom a place is named.
“You are joining a distinguished list of people in De Pere who have a park, field or facility named after them,” Boyd said.
He cited the names of Dan Braisher of Dan Braisher Park, which is adjacent to Washington and Winnebago streets; Jim Martin of Jim Martin Park on Libal Street; and Kelly Danen of Kelly Danen Baseball Field, which is between Tenth and Cedar streets.
Walsh, a De Pere native, deflected the attention, instead thanking his wife, Sue, his children, Tina, Chad and Kristy, and his grandchildren.
“I have to express my gratitude to all of you, and everyone associated with this project, which has given everyone a peaceful area in which to sit and relax,” Walsh said.
He thanked Boyd for making it a reality.
“It means so much to have the Walsh name associated with the City of De Pere and to remain a part of it for a long time to come,” Walsh said. “I certainly didn’t do the work for the city with this result in mind.”
He said his only regret was that his parents couldn’t be there to see the plaza named for their son.
“They set the groundwork and deserve the credit for why we’re here today,” Walsh said.
His father, Jack, died in late 2019, before the pandemic shutdowns, at age 89.
His mother, Millie, passed away in May, at the age of 90, just as the country was coming out of them.
Walsh served as mayor from April 1996 to April 2020, and during his tenure oversaw much residential and industrial development on both sides of the river.
He ushered in a new era of outdoor public art, downtown events and community celebrations.
Before running for mayor, Walsh spent 14 years on the city board of park commissioners.
Kristan Sanchez, an urban designer with Graef, had a design role in Walsh Plaza.
“It’s a nice little escape in the city, a place for small music events, and where people can come with their laptops over the lunch hour,” Sanchez said.
The plaza has benches, a vertical water fountain and a wind wall, composed of lightweight metallic pieces that ripple in the breeze.
“Communities are in the driver’s seat to provide spaces in the public realm that play a role in workforce and talent attraction,” Sanchez said. “Communities are looking to attract talent, and people are looking for nice places to live.”
Walsh Plaza serves as the easterly site of the new EastWest Music Series downtown, (the next of which is from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, July 23, with Kyle Megna & Ross Catterton).
The westside site for the series is Art Alley, where Red Horse will perform from 5 to 9 p.m.