Green Bay parks broadband plan put on hold
By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – A plan to equip four Green Bay parks with high-speed broadband internet using federal pandemic relief dollars is headed back to staff for additional research.
City council voted 8-3 Aug. 17 to send the discussion back to staff to research other possible options.
The current proposal would utilize more than $253,000 in CARES Act community development block grant funds to extend the city’s broadband internet to four parks in low- or moderate-income neighborhoods in the city, which struggle with connectivity.
The four parks are Eastman Park, Seymour Park, Navarino Park and St. John’s Park.
Though the Redevelopment Authority (RDA) sent a recommendation for approval to the full council, some alderpersons weren’t convinced it was the best use of the money.
“When you take a quarter of a million dollars, is this the best bang for the buck?” District 9 Alderperson Brian Johnson said. “I guess I’m just a little bit concerned that perhaps we haven’t really turned over every rock to determine if we are making the wisest and best use of this investment.”
Johnson said he acknowledges connectivity is a challenge in some areas of the city, but he doesn’t know if this is the best way to address it.
“People would actually have to go to the parks with their devices to be able to get access to that,” he said. “When you think about schools, for example, being high users of this, but school is in session during times of the year when you’ve have to be outdoors wearing your mittens at a park. I just can’t help but wonder if there are perhaps some other uses that would help us better or more effectively reach those audiences.”
District 12 Alderperson Jesse Brunette said the goal is to get as many people connected as possible.
“And that’s really going to maybe require a bit more discussion to make sure we are using the quarter of a million dollars in the best possible way to make that happen,” Brunette said.
Other alderpersons supported the plan saying staff did their due diligence.
“It’s just another baby step in getting people connected, and getting them access,” District 1 Alderperson Barbara Dorff said.
Dorff, a member of the RDA, said she is confident in the plan.
“I thought it was a very robust conversation (at RDA),” she said. “There were a lot of questions asked. Toward the end of it, I was convinced that (IT Director Mike) Hronek, (Neighborhood Development Specialist) Will Peters and (Development Director) Neil Stechschulte came up with a pretty good idea. I understood there were these parameters. And that it was within these certain parameters of the CARES funding that we could only use it.”
Monies must be used on a program already approved by the city from the first allocation of CARES funding allocated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Peters said this proposal would be permitted under the Essential Frontline Employee Relief Program.
“(Plans) have to in some shape or form prevent, prepare or respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “So there are limitations on how these funds can be used.”
With a deadline of the end of September to earmark the funds, Peters said time is of the essence.
Stechschulte said staff will gather the additional information requested by the board and bring it to the RDA for further discussion.
The next RDA meeting is scheduled for Sept. 14.
Stechschulte said a special meeting could be called if needed.
The council approved two conditional use permits (CUP) for two downtown properties, which Newcap – a local non-profit which serves those struggling with homelessness – will use as shelters.
A three-story house at 315 South Jefferson will be converted into a family shelter.
And a two-story property located at 932 Cherry St, will be converted into a shelter for transient housing of teens and young adults.
With the CUPs approved, Newcap will now move forward with design and planning.
Both locations will need renovations, including code updates and improvements.
Public television channel
It’s the end of the line for the Spectrum TV Channel 4, the cable channel which broadcasted city council meetings.
Alderpersons approved a request by the IT Department to discontinue the channel in lieu of repairing malfunctioning equipment, which has caused it to be down since spring.
Hronek said he was still unable to get the information.
Alderpersons also approved a request from the committee to have city staff reach out to local stations inquiring about the possibility of airing council meetings.
Hronek will bring back any information he receives to a future Protection and Policy Committee meeting.
Grounded Cafe parklet
Alderpersons approved a Downtown Parklet Grant application from the Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC)/Grounded Cafe for $5,000.
The parklet will be housed in one-and-a-half parking spots directly outside the cafe’s coffee window at 300 S. Adams St.
The ADRC proposed two parklet models, both designed by Kent Hutchison – a basic model costing $6,000 and a more elaborate model at a cost of $12,000, both of which are meant to provide additional seating for cafe patrons.
Depending on what model the ADRC’s board of directors chose, the parklet could include overhead sun protection, benches, space for tables and metal planters, with both designs ADA compliant.