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What could Imagine Alley bring to Downtown Racine?

What could Imagine Alley bring to Downtown Racine?


RACINE — Chris Flynn doesn’t mince words when it comes to the alley next to her brewery-to-be on Third Street. Right now, there are a couple cars parked back there, four trash bins, more than a dozen garbage cans and recycling bins, tangles of electrical wires overhead, and the trash that finds its way between the buildings just off Main Street is scattered across the cracked pavement.

“It was crappy back here,” she said. “It’s an alley. It’s cruddy.”

Flynn doesn’t want it to stay that way. She, along with several of her neighbors, want to clean it up and create a shopping footpath with access to Main Street shops between Third and Fourth streets. It would be known as “Imagine Alley.”

To those who might cast doubt on the project, Flynn says that they “lack imagination.”

By taking inspiration from brick-paved footpaths in St. Augustine, Fla.; Seattle and Chicago, the goal is to promote business for the neighborhood by encouraging people to wander the streets of Downtown, rather than drive through.

Already there are signs of life. Hanging flower baskets donated by Milaeger’s hang from a fire escape and a large flower pot from Downtown Racine Corp. sits at the entrance along Third Street. The alleyway filters onto Wisconsin Avenue between Hot Shop Glass, 239 Wisconsin Ave., and Littleport Brewing Company, 214 Third St., the brewery that Flynn and her husband plan to open before the end of the year.

“We’re just trying to pretty up the block: safer, easier, better for everyone,” Flynn said. “Green is good. Who doesn’t love nature? There’s not enough nature Downtown.”

The asphalt surface needs to be repaved, anyway. Flynn said that the city tried to do that about five years ago, but nearby business owners (including Flynn) protested because there wasn’t a need and it would be costly to repave an alleyway that was only used for garbage collection.

Now, they’re ready for it to be fixed.

Flynn hopes that permeable or hydronic heated pavement will be used — the permeable pavement because it will be better for the environment and cheaper in the long run; or the hydronic heated pavement because it’ll keep snow away and melt ice, which will be more inviting for winter walkers. The brick walls would remain in place.

As for the garbage cans, Flynn crossed her fingers as she said, “They are all going to be gone.”

Visioning a Greater Racine sponsored a cleanup on June 30. A group of volunteers spent a few hours collecting garbage, picking up cigarette butts and pulling weeds.

Two artists, including a muralist, have already been contacted to create artwork for the space. Right now, most of the walls are brick exteriors, and they’ll probably stay that way.

On board

Several business owners want to see Imagine Alley become a reality, including Tony Bigonia of Uncorkt, 240 Main St., and Lori Lund of Little Glass Bird Artful Objects, 232 Main St.

Bigonia hopes the space could become “an extension” of his business: “I’m hoping we could set up tables back there and serve wine and beer.”

There are several rear entrances to Main Street businesses in what could become Imagine Alley, but they aren’t used much. There’s still a sign for Flowers and Company hanging back there, even though the “P” in “Company” is missing and that shop closed several years ago, being replaced by Uncorkt.

DRC Executive Director Kelly Kruse likes the idea too.

“It is great to see merchants and building owners taking initiative and working together to redevelop this otherwise unnoticed space. Once Imagine Alley is transformed, it will play a central role in enhancing the character of Downtown Racine and will highlight some of the businesses that are located just off Main Street,” Kruse said.

Kruse is using the DRC’s designation as a Main Street Community to have a complimentary concept rendering drawn up, helping visualize what Imagine Alley could look like, which in turn could make it Alley more attractive for new business owners or grant providers.

The DRC provided Flynn with a 40-page “Downtown Alley Design Guidebook,” created by the City of Las Vegas, that can help planners visualize how Imagine Alley should look.

“The great thing about an alley transformation is it can be done for a relatively small investment,” Kruse said.

The project has also been a sort of rallying point for the block, too.

“We’ve started to meet all the neighbors,” Flynn said. “It’s kind of cool.”

There is potential to expand Imagine Alley, should the pilot project prove successful. The alley continues for more than 1,000 feet from Third Street down to Fifth Street, ending at Monument Square.

Imagine slowing down

Bringing more pedestrians Downtown could have other positive side effects along Main Street. If people drove more slowly in the shopping district, it could be better for Uncorkt, and other shops and restaurants.

“I want people to, instead of speeding past my business, slow down to see what I’ve got,” he said.

The World Resources Institute, an international nonprofit headquartered in Washington, and the Heart Foundation in Australia both found that slower driving in commercial areas is “good for business.” Not only does it promote safety for both vehicles and pedestrians, but it’s also been shown to stimulate foot traffic and commerce.

The speed limit on the Downtown stretch of Main Street is already 25 mph. Bigonia said he doesn’t want that limit to be any lower, but hopes that people will actually start driving that slowly; at the moment, he said, most drivers go faster than that.


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