Project LEAD dedicates Fort Atkinson's Riverwalk Plaza
By Randall Dullum email@example.com | Posted: Monday, June 11, 2018 6:00 am
Project LEAD XXX, the Fort Atkinson Area Chamber of Commerce’s 30th community leadership class, dedicated Riverfront Plaza on Saturday. Overlooking the Rock River in downtown Fort Atkinson, Project LEAD raised $60,000 in two months to give the pocket park new landscaping, a metal arch, brick-based metal decorative lightpoles and tables and benches. Project LEAD members shown at the ribbon-cutting are, left to right: Stephanie Hoof, Melissa Napiorkowski, Laura Alwin, Ryan Weyenberg, Megan Vergenz, John Bartell, Mary Beth Klietz, John Kutz, Bryan Gatlin, Emily Rueth, Greg Klug, Alex Gillingham. Not pictured are Carla Chase and Olivia Ault.
Project LEAD XXX members snipped the ribbon Saturday to dedicate Riverwalk Plaza, enhanced by the Fort Atkinson Area Chamber of Commerce’s leadership class to bring more visibility to, and encourage more use of, the pocket park overlooking the Rock River.
On hand at Saturday’s noon ceremony were chamber members, community residents, state legislators and project sponsors and supporters.
The newly improved site is located between Brock’s Riverfront Tavern and the Water Street Center building, commonly known as the “silver bullet,” owned by HP Holdings.
Project LEAD — an acronym for Leadership Enhancement for Area Development — emphasizes leadership concepts and focuses on the needs of the community. It is a nine-month community leadership-development program sponsored by the chamber with a goal of introducing participants to the inner workings of the city and business community while developing leadership and teamwork skills.
The 30th Project LEAD group envisioned enhancing the area that already was being utilized to make it more visible to passersby and to the riverwalk area. The enhancement is intended to promote community interaction, encourage use by those who live downtown, bring more foot traffic to local businesses, provide better options for people who already are downtown, and increase the quality of life for residents.
During their work on the project, the Project LEAD members removed the pear tree at the entryway and replaced it with a decorative custom-built archway welcome sign created by Burlington artist Brady Lueck of Sculptural Steel, a Fort Atkinson native who has several local metal sculptures along the Glacial River Trail. The 14-by-10-foot archway creates visibility to draw people to the riverwalk.
The Project LEAD members also re-landscaped the existing greenspace, and installed columns around the perimeter and a park sign to match the city’s park system signage. The plaza also features additional seating, including two interactive chess/checkers tables, as well as removable picnic-style tables and additional benches.
Newly installed lightpoles mimic the existing lightpoles within the community, and the torch of the nearby Native American statues overlooking the river. Additionally, the project soon will feature colorful light-emitting diode patio lights that will be strung between the columns.
“There was really no downtown community space — we had all of this riverwalk, a nice downtown, but nowhere for people to congregate,” Laura Alwin, of The Unity Project and a Project LEAD member, said. “So, that was really the purpose of this park — to create kind of our own town square. We’ve got plans for a Christmas tree and carolers. A good town square for Fort.”
She said the group also plans to design a path directing visitors to the riverwalk entrance at the back of the plaza overlooking the Rock River.
“There was going to be a blue-painted path in our park in Riverwalk Plaza,” Alwin said. “But due to the (upscale) enhancements that we did … the hand-painted amateur path just didn’t seem like it was up to quality for the rest of the project.
“So, thankfully, the Batterman family grant (from Spacesaver Corp.) stepped in and said we could do a separate grant for that (path),” she added. “And that way we can have artists and different materials involved that would really enhance the park instead of detract from it.”
The group also aspires to install a “whimsical piece of art” or sculpture in the back area to continue the overall artistic theme established throughout the city.
During the ceremony, Alex Gillingham, Badger Bank marketing coordinator and one of the 14 participants of this year’s Project LEAD class, began by saying, “We are very delighted to share this special day with all of you as we cut the ribbon for our Riverwalk Plaza.
“Over the last 30 years of Project LEAD, there have been many wonderful projects completed to enhance the Fort Atkinson community,” she added. “Our class wanted to leave our mark and enhance one aspect of the downtown corridor.”
John Kutz, MSI General project executive and one of the project leaders, explained how Riverwalk Plaza became a reality, and introduced the Project LEAD class members and the company for which they work.
Members of Project LEAD 2017-18 class are: Laura Alwin, The Unity Project; Olivia Ault, chamber projects manager; John Bartell, Fort HealthCare revenue cycle director; Carla Chase, Spacesaver Corp. marketing manager; Bryan Gatlin, Fort Community Credit Union vice president of member experience; Alex Gillingham, Badger Bank marketing coordinator; Stephanie Hoof, Bender, Kind & Stafford dental assistant; Mary Beth Klietz, independent Mary Kay beauty consultant; Gregory Klug, Wisconsin Packaging Corporation production coordinator lead; John Kutz, MSI General project executive; Melissa Napiorkowski, Boys and Girls Club of Fort Atkinson director of operations; Emily Rueth, Badger Basement Systems appointment center/website manager; Megan Vergenz, Daily Jefferson County Union advertising coordinator; and Ryan Weyenberg, LSM Chiropractic chiropractor.
“Our group this year took on a pretty aggressive project — we really wanted to look at something that would enhance an existing community space that would help the downtown businesses and really also bring more attention to the riverwalk,” Kutz explained. “We ended up with the project you’re standing in here — the Riverwalk Plaza.
“And through the last nine months, we’ve learned a lot about collaboration with stakeholders, communicating with the city and being able to implement a vision in time for a ribbon-cutting deadline (of early June) that was given to us,” he added. “So it’s been a very challenging, but rewarding, project for all of us, and we’re really thankful everyone could come out today to experience this space that’s been greatly enhanced.”
The project leader also thanked a couple of the project contributors.
“It’s one thing to have a vision, but then you have to have people that know what they’re doing to put it together,” Kutz stated. “Again, (we had) great community support. Pretty much most of the contractors that worked on this (project) are from Fort (Atkinson) or had a connection to Fort, and that was important to our group as well.”
In addition to Lueck, who fabricated the arch and columns, the concrete work was completed by Paul Kramer, of Kramer Enterprises of Fort Atkinson. Bob Muench, of StoneCraft Masonry and Design, he said, did the masonry work, while Landon Belzer, of Creative Landscapes Inc. in Cambridge, did the landscaping.
“We also had tremendous support from the city,” Kutz acknowledged. “Jeff Armstrong, the city electrician, put in hours and hours of work to get everything wired up correctly and helped us with finding fixtures; Rudy Bushcott and the Engineering Department — again, just the tremendous support to our project. A lot of behind-the-scenes guidance on what to do and how to do it!”
Also, he said, Scott Lastusky, director of the Fort Atkinson Park and Recreation Department, aided immensely with implementation, assembling furniture; and the Department of Public Works offered use of its garage, trailers and bucket trucks.
“A big round of applause to everybody that helped,” Kutz encouraged attendees.
Fort Atkinson Community Foundation secretary Dr. Mike Bender also made some remarks.
“Project LEAD XXX — I think they got me here because I was in Project LEAD I — 30 years ago,” Bender joked. “And it’s a great leadership program put on by the chamber and has helped hundreds of people over the years become better acquainted with Fort Atkinson, and all of the people and organizations that make this such a great place to live.”
Fort Atkinson, he said, is a big community of people and organizations which all have the goal of making the city a better place.
“As their Project LEAD programs progressed, the classes sought out projects to make the good area even better yet,” Bender said. “And they organized and undertook projects with in-kind and financial support of community members, their employers and community members at-large.”
And that is where the foundation — which provided $22,500 toward the plaza — comes in.
“We are supported by people way in the past who had the great vision to set up a foundation,” Bender explained. “People had the great vision to want to make Fort Atkinson better, and contributed funds so that they are there to do these things.
“And people continue to do that, and donate to the Foundation today,” he concluded. “And that’s what we do — we (the foundation) help different organizations make Fort Atkinson better.
“Projects like this … it’s not about the foundation — it’s about you guys (Project LEAD class). You did a great job!”
Project LEAD students John Kutz, and Greg Klug of Wisconsin Packaging, had sought approval from the Fort Atkinson City Council for the planned enhancement of the site. Additionally, the project was endorsed by the chamber board of directors and received funding support from the Fort Atkinson Community Foundation with a dollar-for-dollar match for the first tier and half of the project.
Prior to coming before the council, the group had met with city staff members, surrounding businesses and the Fort Atkinson Arts Council for endorsement of the project. The council ultimately gave its vote of support for the concept with the understanding that, for some of the final design components, the group would return to the council for approval.
The Project LEAD class had sought tax-deductible financial contributions of any amount for the project through February. The group’s fundraising goal was $50,000.
Carrie Chisholm, director of the Fort Atkinson Chamber, offered some concluding remarks.
“I would like to personally thank this year’s class of Project LEAD,” Chisholm commented. “This is the 30th year that the chamber has been running a leadership training program. And so they wanted to do something that would last for another 30 years.
“And I think they have done that — this (plaza) is going to last well beyond the next 30 years,” she added. “But it is a gift to the community in partnership with the community. All of you have played a role in making it happen, either through your donation of time and talent, or just by being here and enjoying the space, which is what they (class members) want to be the end result.”
She said Riverwalk Plaza was an approximately $60,000 project for which the group fundraised in about two months.
“So it speaks to the generosity of our community and our business climate,” Chisholm added. “And we are just very, very thankful for all of your support here.”
Also, other civic leaders and politicians expressed their thoughts about the project.
“The community foundation was happy to support the 2018 Project Lead class initiative to refashion and highlight an entryway to our downtown riverwalk,” Mary Behling, chairman of the Fort Atkinson Community Foundation, remarked. “Under the tutelage of the Fort Atkinson chamber for almost 30 years now, Project Lead classes have been delivering unique and quality improvements to our city from major projects like the bathrooms at Barrie Park and the Veterans Memorial in McCoy Park to smaller, but critical, additions such as welcome signs, riverwalk railings, trail markers and public landscaping.
“We appreciate all the hard work this class has done and we look forward to watching the new Riverwalk Plaza take shape,” she added.
Mike Wallace, president and CEO of Fort HealthCare and facilitator of Project LEAD, remarked that the Riverwalk Plaza had been an underperforming asset for the community.
“And Project LEAD came together and conceptualized an idea, and I think they nailed it,” Wallace observed. “I think we’re going to see more foot traffic down here, more community gathering.
“So the community benefits,” he added. “But it’s been really interesting in my involvement with Project LEAD to see how 15 strangers, essentially, came together, conceptualized the project, planned it, presented it, got the approvals from the city, and then went out and raised the funds.
“And so, here we are today as a result of their nine months of effort, and over the last three months they really pushed this through — their vision became reality!” Wallace continued. “We’re all very proud of them, and this is a nice legacy gift to the community. I think this is a very much-needed and welcome enhancement to the city.”
Concurring, state Sen. Steve Nass said he thinks the newly improved plaza will serve to bring the community together.
“The Fort Atkinson community’s been blessed with the (Rock) river, and to have this as an accent to the river and to draw people downtown, and to a particular area also (is great),” Nass said. “And that the community got behind this with unified support, I think, says a lot about Fort Atkinson.
“And you can see it (plaza) just by driving by,” he added. “It’s a wonderful opportunity.
For his part, state Rep. Cody Horlacher said the plaza is a good metaphor for Fort Atkinson “because it really is a gathering place (for people) to come together and not only get to know each other, but also exchange ideas and enjoy the beautiful natural scenery that we have in Fort Atkinson.”
River Level sponsors are: Fort Atkinson Community Foundation, Debbink Family Foundation, Fort Community Credit Union, Griffin Ford Lincoln, Fort 14, the Hannah Church Memorial, Jones Dairy Farm, mkCellular and Rotary Club of Fort Atkinson.
Plaza sponsors are: Laura and Sean Alwin, Badger Basement Systems; Bender, Kind and Stafford Dental; Eric and MaryJo Frey, Fort Arts Council, Larry and Mary Beth Kleitz, MSI General Corp., PremierBank, Spacesaver Corp., Jon and Becky Tuttle, and Wisconsin Packaging Corp.
Community sponsors are: Badger Bank, Jake Brock, Eli Cloute, Daily Jefferson County Union, Fort Atkinson Lions Club, Fort HealthCare, JM Carpets, Johnson Bank, Kiwanis Club of Fort Atkinson, Masterdrive, Inc., Nasco, NorthFit Creamery/ CrossFit of Fort Atkinson, Rock River Truck Repair, Rock River Lanes, Randy Schopen Foundation, Leslie Schowalter, W&A Distribution Services Inc., Michael and Kristin Wallace, and Bruce Waller.
Supporters are: City of Fort Atkinson Fire Department, Humphrey Floral and Gift, Krueger Jewelry, Cole Jones, Davin Lescohier, Thomas and Kathleen Truar, and W.D. Hoard and Sons.