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Vision takes shape for community
Construction crews began work this week on the new Monroe Arts Center addition. The addition will increase gallery space and provide an accessible entrance and elevator for the facility. Ensuring continued support for cultural and community resources, such as MAC, is one of the goals identified as work continues on an updated comprehensive plan for the city of Monroe. (Times photo: Jeff Buchanan)
MONROE - Culturally diverse. Forward-thinking. Committed to supporting arts, businesses and the community.

It may be a tall order, but that's one vision shaping up for the city of Monroe.

Community members met Wednesday for the second of two meetings on the future of the city's culture, creativity and community resources to provide input into an updated comprehensive plan for Monroe. The Southwestern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission is compiling the plan, and is facilitating community meetings on a variety of topics to be included.

First, the group helped revise a vision statement for the topic. The draft that participants landed on reads: "To live in a growing Monroe that is culturally diverse, caring, forward-thinking, and fully committed to public and private support for the arts, entrepreneurship and multigenerational community resources."

To reach that vision, the group began drafting goals, objectives and specific strategies. Among them:

• Increase the business environment on the Square. This could include having sustainable and long-term retail stores, and anchor stores on or near the Square. Also important is encouraging businesses to extend their hours on evenings and weekends.

Connecting the "streetscape" of signs and lightposts from the Square south to Turner Hall and west to the Monroe Arts Center would also help tie the downtown together visually.

Another aspect is bringing affordable and accessible housing to the downtown area, particularly to attract older residents who may want to relocate.

• Maintain the many organizations and services available throughout town. Encouraging more volunteerism throughout the community will help keep organizations thriving, and coordinating volunteer organizations could help pool resources.

Another strategy might be encouraging more businesses to support volunteer efforts, such as having employees participate in the Green County Leaders program.

• Prepare for anticipated demographic shifts. A concern voiced several times is ensuring continuity of volunteerism and philanthropy in the next generation as the population ages. Some avenues to do this are increasing awareness of planned giving and encouraging expansion of community funds such as the Monroe Fund.

Increasing places for people, particularly young professionals, to gather also came to the forefront. Such gathering spots are referred to as "third places" because they are where people meet and interact, away from home and work.

Getting an outside view of the community through a "First Impressions" visit set up by the University of Wisconsin Extension is a possibility. Members of a comparable community would visit Monroe unannounced and then provide feedback. A similar suggestion was to look at a needs analysis of what a city of Monroe's size should have but lacks.

Ron Spielman, special projects advisor for Monroe Clinic, suggested focusing on all that Monroe does offer. He stressed Monroe has a sizable clinic and hospital facility, a technical college campus and a large YMCA facility, making it unique among similarly-sized communities.

The key is ensuring the future of Monroe's organizations.

"If we don't figure out how to sustain them," he said, "the things we take for granted are at risk."