After two big wins in 2017, the city of Oshkosh must keep the momentum going by turning its attention to some challenges that will take longer to address and may prove more difficult to solve, City Manager Mark Rohloff said in his 2018 State of the City address.
“It’s all about the future,” he said, speaking Monday evening at the Convention Center. “That’s what we have to be working on.”
Rohloff pointed to the decision by Oshkosh Corp. to locate its global headquarters here and to the construction of the Menominee Nation Arena as indicators from 2017 of the community’s vitality. But he also outlined steps that will have to be taken to keep the city moving forward.
One area he emphasized was the need to build a reputation as a diverse, welcoming community. Although the city offers a package of many attractive features, “we need to sell it a little better, and part of that is being a welcoming community,” Rohloff said.
A lot of local businesses are looking for new talent and are finding that “it’s a very difficult market,” he added. “To attract people to our community, we need to be seen as welcoming,” he said. “We are competing with a lot of other communities.”
Another challenging goal will be improving those neighborhoods that trail city averages in terms of things like crime, vacancy rates and code violations. “A rising tide must raise all ships,” Rohloff said. “That is why we have to invest in neighborhoods that need improvement. That will help all of us if we do that.”
Rohloff’s tone was upbeat, and he pointed to many projects around the city that will add to the quality of life and address citizen concerns. These include the renovation of the Miles Kimball building on South Main Street, the redevelopment of Oshkosh Avenue as a gateway into the city, the reconstruction of Oregon Street and Washington Avenue, the introduction of new tools for gathering public input and plans to increase public safety staffing.
But he also called on citizens to be patient since some projects might take longer than residents would like. The Pioneer Inn is one redevelopment project that Rohloff thought might have served as a catalyst by now but is still languishing.
He said he would “preach patience” on the Pioneer. “That’s going to take time. It’s one of those things where the stars have to be in alignment,” similar to the way that the expansion of minor league basketball came along to help the city turn the old Buckstaff factory into a modern arena.
Rohloff stressed the importance of citizen engagement in policy making and interspersed his remarks with videotaped comments from Oshkosh residents. One of those comments suggested that the Pioneer be turned into a casino.
Photo: Oshkosh Mayor Steve Cummings welcomes citizens to the State of the City event at the Oshkosh Convention Center.