Lakeshore, Diversity, and Oshkosh’s Future

Back with a local post. In case you missed it, the first official action regarding the potential sale of Lakeshore Municipal golf course occurred when City Manager Mark Rohloff sent Oshkosh Corp. a letter touting the Lakeshore site as the best location for Oshkosh Corp.’s new corporate headquarters. Fair to say this action got some people fired up. My thoughts?

First, Oshkosh Corp. is actively looking for a new headquarters. They will find it in Oshkosh or elsewhere, so it is only prudent that the city is investigating how to keep them in town. I have no reason to doubt that, as the Northwestern reported, “the city had identified more than a dozen locations in Oshkosh that would suit a new headquarters” and the Lakeshore site was deemed most suitable. Frankly, I’d be concerned if City Manager Mark Rohloff was not actively involved with ensuring Oshkosh Corp. stays in town. Which leads my to be second point.

Oshkosh Corp. employs 3,642 people. That is over 10 percent of the City’s employment, and more than 1,000 more than the number two employer in town. Oshkosh Corp. is also one of the city’s largest taxpayers with an assessed property valuation of $31.8 million. Losing Oshkosh Corp. would have a significant negative impact on the city’s tax base. Could it be overcome? Yes, but as I tell my budgeting students, a significant part of a healthy city’s economic development plan is keeping the assets you have.   Oshkosh Corp. is an asset.

Third, I think there is absolutely a need for more and better public spaces in Oshkosh. I am happy people are debating the potential negative impacts of both the loss of the golf course (which really isn’t a public space as much as an open space), and the question of whether or not the golf course site would be better off as a park or mixed development as opposed to a corporate headquarters. I urge people to check out the Imagine Oshkosh center city master plan and weigh in as how best to make more and better public spaces a reality. The plan will be presented tonight from 6-7:30 at the Oshkosh convention center. Go, listen, and speak!

Finally, I think a lot of this debate reflects a lack of trust between leaders and citizens in our community. I have been here four years and there certainly is a perception that there is an old Oshkosh elite making impactful decisions behind closed doors without consulting the public. The question is, how can we as a community encourage diversity and new leadership voices so as to combat this perception (or reality)? Some ways include:

  • Scheduling official meetings at more convenient times;
  • Encouraging you and your friends to serve on city boards and commissions. You can apply right here: http://www.ci.oshkosh.wi.us/government/Board_Commission/.
  • Working actionable diversity benchmarks into formal planning documents at the city and department level so as to create accountability for creating a government that looks and feels like the people it serves; and
  • Refusing to throw up our hands and say at least we tried. Progress is results, not attempts.

Fair to say I think the real issue is less about the golf course and more about the extent to which official institutions in the city of Oshkosh truly represent the diverse community they serve.  I have found Oshkosh to be welcoming, vibrant, and always interesting, but like most places, imperfect (I am also not naive to the fact that I am a white male whose ability to get involved with official institutions is not especially difficult). There is great potential and need for more to get involved and I urge the passionate voices out there to do so.

Back to the golf course. The debate is just getting started and I have no idea where I stand at this point. That said, I serve on the Plan Commission and any land-use change will come through us, so please let me know your thoughts so I can make an informed decision should the time come.

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