Jayson Smith has been involved in many pivotal moments in Chippewa Falls’ history, but perhaps one of his longest projects is the park crowning the city’s downtown.
“They’re buttoning things up for this construction year,” Smith said, gesturing in the direction of Riverfront Park. Currently, the project is in Phase II of its development, with footpaths twining through a large, grassy area and lights lining a stroll down to the riverbank, but more work is still to come.
Smith, Chippewa Falls’ city planner and transit manager, has been with the city since 1981, a total of 36 years.
Though not a native of Wisconsin, he has a background in the Chippewa Valley. He graduated from Michigan State University with a bachelor’s degree in urban planning, and in 1981, started working at the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission in Eau Claire – the very commission that will be taking over the city’s transit program next year.
“They had a contract with the city to provide a half-time planner for (Chippewa Falls),” Smith said. “The job went full-time in 1988. ... I started out pretty green right out of college, and as always, you get mentored and learn as you go.”
36 years later, Smith is wrapping up loose ends: updating his job description as the city searches for a new planner. “The job has really ... morphed into a significant amount of economic development,” Smith said. “I’m pretty sure there’s going to be some local folks interested in the job, but my primary recommendation ... is to hire a person with a planning background.”
Finding a candidate who has experience with TIF districts – tax increment financing districts – is also essential, Smith said. He calls the districts “the most powerful economic development tools in the municipalities of Wisconsin,” and Chippewa Falls has nine such districts active.
Smith has worked with the city’s TIFs throughout his tenure, and has had a fingerprint on many of their benefits: a new Leinie Lodge, the current Chamber of Commerce and SEH buildings on Bridge Street and the reinvigorated strip mall on the city’s south side — one that now houses a movie theater and several restaurants — have all benefited from TIF financing.
Those projects were administered through his office in City Hall, and future projects will do the same, Smith said.
The city has accepted a proposal from the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission to administer the city’s transit program, but Smith says that may be temporary, until a new planner settles into the position.
“The (Planning Commission) will have a little bit of a learning curve ... but they’ve done it before,” he said.
Looking back on his career, Smith emphasizes the importance of transparency: “Solid plans that are done openly and supported by the public” will help the city’s governing body make the right calls, he said.
He’ll spend time with family members, but still live in Chippewa Falls after retiring from his desk on the first floor of City Hall: “I’m not going anywhere. ... I told them, anytime they have a question, I’m more than happy to answer the phone.” He taps his head. “There’s a lot of history here.”
Smith’s last day with the city will be Jan. 8.