Green Bay Council approves park broadband project
By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – A plan to equip four Green Bay parks with high-speed broadband internet using federal pandemic relief dollars received final approval by the City Council at its meeting Sept. 21.
The project will utilize $253,062 in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act community development block grant funds to extend the city’s broadband internet to four parks in low- or moderate-income neighborhoods, which struggle with connectivity.
The parks are Eastman, Seymour, Navarino and St. John’s.
This is the second time the topic was in front of council, after again receiving approval from the Redevelopment Authority.
Last month, alderpersons sent the proposal back to staff to research other possible options for the money.
The funds must be used on a program already approved by the city for the first allocation of CARES funding through the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
City staff said the park’s broadband project would be permitted under the Essential Frontline Employee Relief Program.
After additional research, city staff confirmed its recommendation to use the funds for the park broadband project.
According to the staff proposal, providing broadband and wireless access in neighborhood parks will assist those who do not otherwise have access to do things like remote work, remote school and other needs due to the pandemic and social distance requirements.
Staff said residents will be able to access the broadband services within shelter buildings and on park grounds, as well as from their vehicles in parking areas in or near the parks.
In addition, the proposal states wireless access can be utilized by front-line employees providing services to residents in the proposed areas.
The plan was approved with a 10-2 vote with alderpersons Jesse Brunette and Chris Wery opposed.
A Green Bay Public Arts Commission proposal to use tax increment finance district (TID) No. 5 funds to install up to four art sculptures in Leicht Memorial Park along the Fox River is moving forward, but with slightly different perimeters.
Alderpersons changed the proposal to include the entire TID 5 area as possible locations for the sculptures, instead of focusing them specifically in Leicht Park.
“I think there are other places in TID 5, in particular, that typically have higher foot traffic where these things might perhaps have a little more impact, rather than try to congregate them all in one space,” District 9 Alderperson Brian Johnson said.
Development Director Neil Stechschulte said the updated perimeter gives staff the ability to evaluate other possible locations for the sculptures.
However, he said projects have to be tied back to existing project plans that have been identified and previously approved by the City Council and the Joint Review Board.
“Back in February, around when I first started, I had conversations with the finance department regarding the expenditure period for TID 5 in 2021,” Stechschulte said. “The actual closure of the district is December of 2026, but there is usually a five-year limitation of a typical TID where expenditures need to be committed as part of that project plan, and then those last five years are essentially set aside to generate revenue to fund any committee improvements to that point.”
He said the proposal to erect the sculptures in Leicht Park was tied to the already planned public improvements to the park, which include a park shelter, dock improvements and brick pathways.
Stechschulte said there are street improvement projects in the TID No. 5 project plan which could possibly include the installation of public art.
The updated language approved by the council allows staff to research that further.
Parks Director Dan Ditscheit said the sculpture project is estimated to cost $46,500, which will be fully funded with TID No. 5 dollars.
At the time of closure, he said, TID No. 5 is projected to have a balance of $5 million.
“These funds are collected over the next five years,” Ditscheit said. “To be clear, these are not funds the city currently has, it will be generated over the next five years in terms of collections. Staff has been spending a significant part of the last several months trying to identify eligible projects that will allow the city to access and use those funds toward qualifying city projects.”
The Leicht Park improvement project, whether it includes sculptures or not, is set to begin soon.
“Our ideal would be to hire an architect in the very near future,” Ditscheit said. “That could be done in the next month or so. And construction would probably likely happen next year, either spring or summer, more likely summer.”
Ditscheit said the primary focus of the building would be restrooms, but could potentially include a room attached to serve several different purposes.
Stechschulte said early cost estimates of the park improvement project were around $2.2 million.
The topic came to the council with no recommendation from the Parks Committee after a vote failed with a 2-2 tie.
“What I mentioned at the Parks Committee, and Alder Wery as well, it’s not that I am personally against public art, I think it is a very good and fine thing to do and am supportive,” Brunette said. “The question really was, with those TID dollars, are there other improvements to the district that could be made? I noted flooding and other infrastructure needs in that area.”