Mayor Jim Paine’s State of the City Address

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On Thursday evening, Superior’s Mayor Jim Paine addressed the city for his State of the City Address. The mayor addressed his goals for the year ahead. Mayor Paine spoke about a booming business district with 30 new businesses that have opened in Superior this past year. He focused on infrastructure on roads, saying crews will continue to restore the beauty of the city streets and parks.

Mayor Paine said he will formally sign the document returning the indigenous burial grounds at Wisconsin Point and Nemadji Cemetery to the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, saying "I hope that it will be the beginning of a new era in which we celebrate our shared history by telling the truth and seeking reconciliation."

The mayor spoke about public safety and investing on new training for the cities public safety personnel each year. Mayor Paine praised the Superior Police Department. "The Superior Police Department is one of the first departments in Wisconsin to complete the ABLE program which trains officers to intervene and prevent police misconduct," he said.

The mayor spoke about his goals for access to treatments for mental health and addiction, limited childcare, rising homelessness, and affordable housing.

During the speech, Mayor Paine presented a key to the city to his 2022 Citizen of the Year, retired Pastor Will Mowchan from Pilgrim Lutheran Church.

Mayor Paine ending his speech saying in part, "In the past few years we’ve expanded our economy, improved our infrastructure, restored parks and cleaned up our built and natural spaces. We’ve reversed decades of decline and built a better city… I can confidently say that the State of our City is as strong as it’s ever been, but we’re just getting started.”

You can read Mayor Jim Paine’s full State of the City Address below:

“Madam President, Mr. Vice President, City Councilors, Citizens of Superior,

I chose this location very deliberately, I always do. In my first two State of the City addresses, I spoke at the Yellowjacket Union because of my personal connection to the campus and to that particular building but also because of the central role that UW-Superior has played in our city. It’s also a beautiful space to gather a crowd. In 2020 I couldn’t safely gather you anywhere so we canceled the speech. In 2021, with some risk of COVID still present I invited you to join me outdoors at the Earth Rider festival grounds so we could gather safely but also celebrate the rise of new and exciting places. If you were there you remember that it got a little cold but the beer was good, so it was fine.

But this place… This place tells a real story. I always use this speech to tell you how far we’ve come and try and inspire you to believe that we can go so much further. But this year I wanted you to see and feel the progress our city has made and to get a real sense of what kind of future we could build. This is more than a building, it’s a pretty good metaphor.

Obviously, this is the new home of the Development Association, the Entrepreneur Fund and, hopefully soon, most of our economic development organizations and advocates. It’s also home to several new businesses trying to get their start in the community. That makes it about the best place possible to celebrate the more than 30 new businesses that have opened in Superior in the last year, unemployment at nearly record lows, and wages at the highest we’ve ever seen. Repetition is just lazy writing so I wasn’t going to say this again this year but since Jim Caesar has been such a gracious host tonight, I might as well put it his way: Welcome to the Boom Town!

Our booming economy isn’t the work of any one person or institution. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t credit and celebrate Jim Caesar, or Jason Serck, or Andy Donahue, for their one on one work with entrepreneurs, helping them climb over seemingly impossible barriers. Nor does it mean we shouldn’t be proud of our city council for creating policies that actually help small businesses as much as we’ve always helped large companies. And we should certainly be deeply grateful to those brave business owners that risked it all to try and make their dreams come true. To Jim, Jason, Andy, Councilors, the dozens of new entrepreneurs and hundreds of existing business owners, thank you. This city is better today than it was last year because of your work. But let’s also acknowledge that what’s making us successful is our ability to come together to actually help each other.

I chose this place because its a gathering space. We’re standing in the very heart of our downtown and the social, cultural, economic, and historic center of our city. That’s what downtowns do. They bring people together. But almost everyone here will remember a time when downtown Superior didn’t do that. It was forgotten place filled with empty storefronts and abandoned lots. A highway sized street sped traffic quickly through, and then out. It was dirty and it was dangerous. Now our storefronts are filling up and buildings rise on vacant lots, including on overbuilt parking lots. Our downtown has become the epicenter of the greatest economic revival in the history of the city.

I hope to have several announcements of new businesses over the coming summer. But let’s kick off a season of growth tonight. I am thrilled to announce that this year we will welcome the construction of a new craft school and apartment building on the empty DOT lot at the far North End of Tower avenue. While people make their home upstairs, the community will get to take classes on carpentry, woodworking, sewing, photography, cooking, art, and many other skills in the workshop below. It’s yet another business to add to the diversity and vitality of Superior’s thriving downtown. And it’s only possible because the City of Superior acquired the land to preserve it for the right project. Now an empty parking lot will finally generate new tax revenue, citizens will have another fun thing to do in town, more people will have a place to live, and area businesses will have more customers.

I served on the planning board that first adopted the designs of the Tower and Belknap projects and I still remember the brilliant planners that were fighting for the idea that public spaces, especially streetscapes, should be designed as community spaces and not just transportation corridors. I later learned that they were joined by some powerful community advocates like the incomparable Kaye Tenerelli who fought for the belief that if you build a space that works for everyone, that everyone would use it. She was right. They were all right. The street out front was an experiment but it worked as well and better than they all promised it would. At the time, I was inspired by their passion and genius. Now I’m determined to build on their legacy.

Last year I promised that we were going to extend the community centered design of Tower Avenue all the way to 21st street. Tonight I get to reveal that I was pulling my punches when I said that. We are going further. We are going to totally redesign and rebuild Tower Avenue all the way to 28th street and bring those neighborhoods and business districts back to life.

I also told you that we were bringing trees back to the center of Hammond Avenue for the first time in decades. But if you remember, I told you the reason behind the new design. I wanted to give people their neighborhood back. And when we invited them to tell us what they wanted out of their new street, they told us exactly what I’d hoped. They wanted slower traffic and a safe place to walk and ride a bike. They didn’t mind single lanes of traffic. They didn’t mind on street parking. And they asked for those trees back. The most important lesson that we are learning from these projects is that when you put people at the center of your planning, you get a better city. That’s how we are going to bring back neighborhoods and business districts throughout Superior, by putting people first; not cars or businesses; actual people and their real experiences.

That means investing in pedestrian infrastructure and services. Because we’re all pedestrians at some point. Thanks to years of council support, we’ve been able to rebuild sidewalks in neighborhoods that have been forgotten for generations. And last winter, kids walked to school on the first city plowed sidewalks in nearly half a century.

It means investing in public transportation. That’s why we made bus rides free for students so that every kid could participate in after school activities or at least have options when the weather turns ugly. It’s also why we invested in the largest expansion of DTA service in the history of the Twin Ports, which will begin this summer.

It’s why we’ve added stop signs, or removed calendar parking, or increased speed enforcement, or planted trees to slow down traffic in quiet neighborhoods.

And yes, it’s why we’ve added bike infrastructure to our main corridors. Bikes get a bad rap in the north. But a lot of people get around that way and it’s not always who you think. We paint bike lanes and install bike racks for kids that can’t drive yet, or for adults trying to get healthy or save money, or for seniors who can’t afford a car. I’ve actually met these people and while there are still many more cars on our roads than bikes, that population is growing and a lot of the folks on two wheels aren’t always riding because they want to but because they have to. It doesn’t cost much money to make our streets a little safer so I’m going to keep getting trying to help them out. And by the way, if you don’t ride usually ride a bike in this city, I’d point out that gas is over $4.00 a gallon so it might be a good time to try it out. Trust me, it’s more fun than you think, even in January.

We’re building and maintaining our streets for everybody, all the time. We’ll clear a path for you to walk and bike in the winter. We’ll fill the potholes in the spring. We’ll slow down traffic in the summer. And we are going to make these streets beautiful year round. For far too long, this city didn’t budget for beauty. Our streets were originally built around and amongst nature, lined with trees that provided shade, mitigated floods, and daily reminded us that we live in the North Woods. Disease and bad infrastructure design took nature out of neighborhoods. We ought to bring it back. Last year we completed the replacement of the trees we lost to emerald ash borer. This year we were scheduled to end our plantings and simply maintain our existing trees. But I don’t think that’s enough. So we are going to keep going and add new trees to our boulevards, parks, sidewalks, and public spaces throughout Superior and restore the lush urban forest of the last century.

Our close relationship with the natural world is one of the reasons we live here. The seasons may not always be kind but none of us would deny that the beauty of our parks, wilderness, and water are what makes this place so special. I’ve been an environmentalist since I was very young but no one person taught me to protect our natural world. I became defensive of it by experiencing it, understanding its value, and learning that it was fragile. But the experience came first. When I ran for Mayor I promised to make the wilderness and water more accessible to the people of Superior because I believed that the more people saw, felt, and appreciated what we have here on the shore of Lake Superior, the more they would help me protect it. And each year, we’ve been able to bring more access to more people. In the last year, we’ve begun work on a new forest master plan to protect our wilderness, opened a new launch on the Pokegema river, expanded the Makwa Ziibiins trail on Wisconsin Point, begun our major green infrastructure project on Barker’s Island, and improved parks and playgrounds across the city. But I want to keep going. I want to give the people of this city new experiences in the outdoors and bring back old ones. I was inspired by the popularity of our restored Barker’s Island beach and impressed to learn that it’s the most popular spot to get in the water in the entire Twin Ports. But I can’t shake the idea that we can go even further. I grew up in Billings Park. Due to contamination of the St. Louis River, we couldn’t swim in what used to be the most popular water attraction in the city. You can still see the ruins of the boathouse and changing room in the inlet below the park. Why can’t we gave that back to the people of Superior? Thanks to the efforts of several local, state, and federal agencies, and the people of the Twin Ports, the St. Louis River is now largely free of the contamination of the last 5 decades. So I’ve asked our Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Director, Linda Cadotte, to begin testing the water to determine if it’s safe enough to swim again. If it’s not, we’ll take more action to clean it up. But if it is, we’re going to bring swimming back to Billings Park.

These places are more than just recreation. They are an indelible part of our culture and character. And to many people, they are sacred. We have to regularly remind ourselves of the debt we owe to the first peoples of this place, the Lake Superior Ojibwe and their descendants. We have to also recognize the many injustices they’ve endured over the centuries we’ve lived together. This summer, I plan to bring a bit more justice and peace to our long relationship when I formally sign the document returning the indigenous burial grounds at Wisconsin Point and Nemadji Cemetery to the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. I hope that it will be the beginning of a new era in which we celebrate our shared history by telling the truth and seeking reconciliation.

This is what government can do when it puts people first. It’s another reason why I chose this building to deliver this speech. This was a post office, a government building, a building built to serve the people. That’s what government does. And our most important duty to the people is to protect them. This is a mission that the City Council and my administration have always put first. We’ve invested in new equipment for our police and fire departments, including the city’s first tower truck to fight large or complex fires and the conversion of our police fleet to hybrid vehicles to improve their efficiency and reduce our impact on the climate crisis. We’re increasing accountability through new, state of the art squad and body cams that have been proven to reduce use of force. We’ve invested in new training for our public safety personnel each year. Last year, George Floyd was murdered by a police officer not only because that officer was a murderer that betrayed his badge, but because three other officers stood by and allowed it to happen. As challenging as that was to admit, our police department didn’t duck that tough conversation and now I’m proud to tell you that the Superior Police Department is one of the first departments in Wisconsin to complete the ABLE program which trains officers to intervene and prevent police misconduct.

We’ve expanded the mission of both the police and fire departments by adding staff with new responsibilities. In the Fire Department, welcomed back the Assistant Chief position so that we could increase public outreach and prevent more fires and serious accidents. And in the Police Department, we delivered on our promise to hire a Community Response Specialist to help us confront addiction, poverty, homelessness, and mental illness in new ways. In just her first few months, CRS Jen Stank has been working directly with our city’s most vulnerable people and, while the results are sometimes difficult to see or measure, I can tell you that due to her work, at least half a dozen people that had been living in homelessness have found safe and stable shelter.

Public safety isn’t just our Police and Fire Departments. Without a doubt, the most dangerous place in this city is in a car, that’s on a street, in a snowstorm. Since our now infamous “Thanksgiving Storm” we’ve continued to seek innovation and efficiency in our streets department. In just the last year we made two major improvements. We added publicly available GPS trackers to our plows so that you could get a sense of where they are and how safe the streets might be. We also eliminated any restrictions on overtime for plow operators so that we can always assure the public that, if it’s snowing, we’re plowing, every time. We have a simple goal: a safe street for every driver, at all times. That’s tough to do. But with increased investment and careful planning, we get closer each year.

We’ve continued to recognize that the world is changing and government has to change with it. We need to invest in new service, including high speed internet. At this point, Councilor Tylor Elm’s plan for a public, open access, high speed, reliable internet network, Connect Superior, is several years old. But just a few months ago we hired a new contractor to bring us through the final stages of development and get our first citizens connected. Within two or three years, we’ll end the monopoly that’s forced us to pay high prices for slow and spotty service. Access to the internet was already a necessity in 21st century society even before the pandemic. Now it’s indispensable. But since the private sector has been unable or unwilling to meet this challenge, we are going to have to step up and do it ourselves. This has already been a long road and we’ve got a long way to go. But thanks to the hard work of our staff, a highly qualified contractor, and the support of the city council, Superior is going to be one of the our nation’s most technologically connected communities before the end of this decade.

I should be honest. I have at least one selfish reason for wanting to deliver my speech here. It’s a gorgeous building. It’s an old building. It’s an historic building. By now you all know my love for Superior’s history and our historic places. But I’m hoping that before this evening is over I can get you to share some of the passion I have for these icons of our past. Because in the next year, I don’t intend to just appreciate our history, I plan to invest in it. Earlier this year, the city council authorized millions for historic rehabilitation. I promised that I would enlist the experts on our Historic Preservation Commission to help identify our highest priorities. After first inviting the public to weigh in, they came to a decision just last night. They’ve asked us to restore the Princess Theatre across the street from here and save the Carnegie Library on Hammond Avenue. So we are starting right now. We’ve already begun the acquisition of both buildings and I plan to submit project plans to the city council in June. With luck, we’ll bring theatre back to Superior’s downtown before the end of next year.

It’s tempting to end here. We’ve accomplished a lot, even in just the last year. And we’ve got an ambitious but achievable agenda for the coming months. While I’ve always tried to focus more on our community’s opportunities rather than our challenges, it would be wrong to ignore some of the very real problems we are facing and will continue to face in the days ahead.

Lack of access to treatment for mental health and addiction, limited childcare, rising homelessness, and affordable housing are real threats to the stability and prosperity of our community. None of these issues are strictly the responsibility of the city but if we ignore them, we risk all the progress we’ve made. Besides, leaders don’t make excuses or ignore problems. We face them. That’s why we are directly investing in solutions for each of these crises.

We will fund providers that can offer new or better access to treatment of mental illness, including addiction. We’ve committed more than half a million dollars to mitigate homelessness and given our Police Chief and Community Response Specialist full discretion to use those funds to address the diverse causes that drive each unique case of homelessness. Thanks to Council President Jenny Van Sickle and her colleagues, we are directly investing in maintaining and expanding childcare in Superior so that parents have the opportunity to rejoin the workforce. And we are going to have to finally admit that market simply won’t build affordable housing without public support. So we have already begun soliciting developers to build affordable apartment buildings and single family homes which we’ll incentivize with our new affordable housing fund.

No Mayor or City Council will ever be able to meet these challenges alone. The work of the people requires the people. The success of our city will only ever come from our citizens and their willingness to come together to first believe and then work for a better community. That’s why each year I recognize one citizen whose dedication, or sense of service, or simple hard work on behalf of others provides an example of the citizenship to which we should all strive. At each State of the City address I’ve presented the key to the city to one citizen of the year. I look for someone that is has not merely demonstrated good citizenship, but rather someone who lives it. I’m not looking for someone that has simply sacrificed for others but someone who so truly cared for others that service seems to be no sacrifice at all but a joy that infects everyone that meets them. I’m looking for humility and grace. Passion and perseverance. Dedication and duty. So this year’s choice was easy. I’m pleased to declare that our 2022 Citizen of the Year is retired Pilgrim Lutheran Church Pastor Will Mowchan. Pastor Mowchan has not simply preached the gospels, he’s lived them. In decades of service he has placed himself on the side of the lost and the forgotten, the vilified and the oppressed, the afflicted and the afraid. And he demanded we all join him. He did all of this with a sense of joy and peace that made such challenging service seem accessible. Despite a career of serving and leading in the center of our community he never sought out any particular accolades or recognition for himself. So if falls to us to recognize him and I couldn’t be more proud to do it. I should note that the key to the city is made by Epicurean. It’s a real cutting board. So I’m pleased to award it to someone that is just as likely to use it to prepare a meal for a friend as hang it on his wall. Pastor Will Mowchan.

There are a lot of reasons I chose this space to deliver this speech here. But there’s only one that matters. It’s not that it’s a government building, or that it’s in the center of town, or that it represents our efforts to make our economy work for everyone. It’s the ambition of the place. This is a post office and it’s built like a palace! I am in awe of the community that built this. They built their whole city this way. Not just their buildings but their streets, and homes, and parks, and their name were all meant to show that Superior could one of the greatest cities in the country and they really believed that it could be.

So do I.

In the past few years we’ve expanded our economy, improved our infrastructure, restored parks and cleaned up our built and natural spaces. We’ve reversed decades of decline and built a better city. But when I look at what we’ve done I can’t help but dream even bigger. We’ve proven that we won’t be governed by doubt but rather by the confidence, hope, and vision that make anything possible. So I can confidently say that the State of our City is as strong as it’s ever been, but we’re just getting started.”