Choices lie ahead for South Beloiters

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Reaching for a better future involves risk and investment.

SOUTH BELOIT HAS some big decisions to make over the coming months and years.

At a special city council meeting this week, plans were discussed for a new city hall and public library complex. The development site is adjacent to the Nature at the Confluence environmental education center and would continue efforts to create major public improvements south of the border.

Beloit 2020 was instrumental in bringing Nature at the Confluence to fruition (and in paying for it). The objective was to extend the extraordinary improvements occurring north of the state border, which have transformed the Rock River corridor and the commercial downtown district. Additional plans call for remaking the Fourth Street corridor and the approaches to the Beloit Memorial High School campus.

It's only natural that South Beloit gets in the game in a bigger way.

THAT'S WHERE THE community will be challenged to make the hard decisions that can positively impact South Beloit's future.

Improvements, even when an outside group like Beloit 2020 gets involved with planning and seed money, does not come cheap. Then again, nothing worth doing comes cheap.

The overall city hall/library project carries a price tag somewhere in the $9 million to $10 million range, depending on how the work proceeds. The number alone can be expected to generate pushback. There always are people who bristle not only at public costs, but over change in general. South Beloit officials will have to overcome such opposition with clear and convincing arguments for the benefits the community could expect to follow the investment.

That's how improvements were sold in Beloit. When the City Center process started Beloit was stuck in a negative spiral. Industrial jobs were disappearing. Vacancies were widespread in downtown commercial properties. Shocking crimes had put Beloit in state and regional headlines in a bad way. As the economy slipped budgets were tight all-around.

That may not have seemed like a propitious time to propose an ambitious and expensive reimagining of the City Center. There was plenty of doubt and more than a little pushback. But when else would the timing have been right? Need drives change. And change requires risk.

THE RESULTS IN BELOIT speak for themselves. No, the community has not reached the end of its journey, nor has it realized utopian dreams of perfection. But tens of millions of dollars have been invested, hundreds of jobs have been created, and people come from far and wide to enjoy Beloit's amenities or to study how the process might be repeated in their own hometowns.

Around its periphery, South Beloit has created some solid growth. Residential progress has been made both east and west. Industrial expansion has taken place in the city's business park along Prairie Hill Road. There are promising development areas around the Interstate 39/90 junction.

But the central city remains problematic. Gardner Street and Blackhawk Boulevard are key entrances not only to South Beloit but to Beloit as well. Frankly, it's kind of a mess. A community needs a central beating heart, and South Beloit doesn't have it. The natural extension of civic development along the Rock River corridor may serve as a catalyst for future improvements to both Gardner and Blackhawk and South Beloit's core.

BUT IT WON'T be easy or cheap. It will take investment. And it will take some courage, particularly among public officials who must decide whether to lead citizens forward or remain mired in the past.

In the coming months more detailed information will come forth - by the way, that too is a crucial responsibility for public officials, to be good communicators with full transparency. Shading the truth or trying to spin people is a surefire route to defeat.

The challenge is to show the people of South Beloit how they and their descendants can benefit by investing in the future. Fortunately, this task is made simpler by the show-and-tell opportunities just to the north, where comparable investments are paying off in a big way.

A wise person said one either moves forward or slides backward. Standing still accomplishes the latter. South Beloiters will have to choose.

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