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Wakefield planning commission discusses moving forward


February 14, 2018


Wakefield — At the Monday meeting of the Wakefield planning commission, city manager Richard Brackney gave members an assignment of sorts.

As a means of spurring a brainstorm, he asked members to ponder the following three questions:

Why would you have a house in Wakefield?

Why would you have a business in Wakefield?

What do you like about Wakefield’s recreational options?

Specifically, he asked, what are the pros and cons of each category?

Brackney pointed out that commission member Jim Anderson has said previously that the downtown suffers from a lack of aesthetics.

Both men agree that although some aspects of the downtown are nice, some of the imagery is disjointed and some is, as Brackney said bluntly, “ugly.”

“What do you want to see Wakefield become 20 years from now?” asked Brackney. “Are you looking to move it forward?”

Brackney didn’t have to wait for answers.

“We have one of the most unique communities,” said Karen Manson in her first meeting as a commission member. At its Jan. 24 regular meeting, the Wakefield City Council appointed Manson to a 3-year slot on the commission.

Manson reminded commissioners that many people from other towns visit Wakefield during special activities such as the 4th of July fireworks on Sunday Lake.

That draw is a positive, but Manson warned that it might fade with further exploration. “What kind of public image are we giving them when they wander in downtown?” she asked.

Moreover, given the current status, she asked, “Would you want to open a business in downtown Wakefield?”

“There’s no money to address these issues,” said commission member John Granato, who said even if the region benefits from some level of resurgence in mining, that in itself “is not going to save this area.”

Beyond that, he stressed, “I think (Gogebic) County should do some development as a county to bring some jobs in.”

Granato said that, aside from tourists, the area’s residents “need to have money to spend,” so as to create a continuum of success.

Commission chairman Dale White added that, without a corporate tax base, the city lacks an adequate tax base to address renovation.

He said tourists also could be prodded more to invest in the city.

Regarding Eddy Park, he said, “We don’t have any signage in the park to encourage people to visit downtown businesses: Stop uptown. Get a pasty. That’s a simple fix.”

Moreover, he said that, while the majority of tourist traffic enters town on the weekend, many local businesses are closed then, particularly on Sundays.

White conceded that limited staffing makes it difficult for businesses to remain open all weekend, but the town loses tourism dollars and recognition because of it.

He added that the Iron Belle Trail, when complete, “is a weekend thing” as well, and he hinted that it also could inspire new business opportunities, perhaps for additional healthful food choices.

“They’re a healthy bunch,” he said of potential hikers and bikers who will pass through the town, “so how many pasties are they going to eat?”

“My opinion is that recreation is the most important, not the downtown,” said commission member Bethany Anderson.

Her theory was that offering solid recreational opportunities would, in turn, “attract business.”

She also asked whether it would be possible to restart the Gogebic County Economic Development Authority, which died out in the past decade.

“It died because Ironwood wanted an extra vote, based on having more population,” said Granato, who agreed that renewed attention to regional economics would be helpful.

Finally, Brackney said that, in relation to any plans developed, “The more people we can include in anything we’re doing, the better off we are.”

He said accessibility is a regular concern with state grants and that attention to such matters makes sense anyway, in terms of making facilities and events available to seniors or persons with disabilities.

He also praised White’s idea to promote the downtown with signage in Eddy Park, and when Granato also suggested producing a promotional flyer to give to campers and visitors, Brackney said, “John, that’s a wonderful idea.”

Granato said additional promotion could occur in the way of advertising the city’s business property or new housing property either online or in an additional flyer.

Brackney concluded that, if the city decides to create a particular theme for its downtown, it then could request that even chains such as Dollar General adapt to it.


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