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Council must build support for CARE plan

(This is the second in a series of three articles regarding the neighborhood revitalization efforts in Wausau, Wisconsin.  Click on the links below this article to view the other articles.)

CARE plan Wausau City Council members have a chance tomorrow night to truly make a difference in the course of their city.

They also have the opportunity to let politics and personal animosity stand in the way of helping Wausau residents who most need it.

The council will decide Tuesday on whether the city should accept $125,000 from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority. The money would be used to buy the old Sorenson's Floral building at 903 N. Seventh Street for use as an outreach center for the Central Area Renewal Effort.

The city has nothing to lose and everything to gain by accepting the money. Technically, it is structured as a zero-interest loan, but in practical terms it is a grant because the money will remain in the city as long as it is used on community development projects.

That hasn't prevented some council members from turning it into a political football. They refer to the CARE initiative as Mayor Linda Lawrence's pet project and seem to regard it as a grand social experiment.

In reality it's neither.

Lawrence has brought together a diverse group of experts to address the physical and social problems associated with downtown's decaying neighborhoods. Cops, church groups, probation officers, Head Start, Free to Grow, Fresh Start and neighborhood residents all are involved.

Their plan is to hire a CARE coordinator who will work out of the Sorenson's building and provide easy access to a wide range of services. The storefront also will be home to a community police officer and host visits from schools, health workers, social service agencies and other groups.

Finally, city building inspectors, responsible for making sure residences and businesses are safe and well-maintained, will work in the building.
Council members have been invited to participate. They've declined.

So have landlords, who apparently will appear in force at tomorrow night's meeting to oppose the CARE plan.

They and council members really should educate themselves before weighing in. And Free to Grow will provide a lesson at 6 p.m., immediately before the council's regular meeting.

Free to Grow essentially is a narrowly focused CARE effort. It has concentrated for the last 18 months on an eight-square-block area south of Bridge Street between First and Fifth streets.

By partnering with police and other agencies and tackling many of the same issues CARE is confronting - run-down housing, high crime rates, substance abuse, transient tenants and absentee landlords - Free to Grow has made a tremendous difference.

The group's primary goal is to improve the lives of at-risk children by steering them away from alcohol, tobacco and other drugs and getting them more involved in school.

Addressing crime, housing and other problems has helped achieve that goal, executive director Catherine Howe said. Neither landlords nor residents have complained. In fact, they've welcomed the project.

And it's being done all over the country.

CARE seeks to replicate that success by helping residents, homeowners and landlords improve their properties and their lives.

Council members have a choice. They can continue to do nothing and watch downtown neighborhoods deteriorate further as crime rates rise and property values decline.

Or they can accept the $125,000 and get on with rebuilding Wausau.

It's a no-brainer.

Tomorrow night, we'll see how many council members use their brains.

Landlords question need for CARE - Landlords expected to oppose renewal plan

Council tables CARE proposal
, December 17, 2003

(Written by David Paulsen,, December 15, 2003 and reprinted with permission from Wausau Daily Herald)


copyright 2008 Free To Grow
Free To Grow is a national program supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation with direction and technical assistance provided by the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University.