A “funky” vision for the downtown New London riverbank could turn a vacant lot into a neighborhood connecting its new residents, shops and visitors with existing business and parks across the water.
The all-encompassing concept, called a “Funky Fishing Village on the Wolf River,” could include high-end condos with private boat docks, public green space, retail shops or restaurants with upper level apartments, a footbridge across the river and pedestrian walkway along the south sea wall.
“It’s different. It’s not just New London,” Karen Gething told the Economic Development Committee on Wednesday, June 19.
With an architect, builder and developer in tow, Gething unveiled a concept to develop the 6-acre plot bordered by the river, South Pearl Street, Wolf River Avenue and the Saputo Cheese plant.
The city owns the site, acquired in 2004 during Wolf River Lumber’s relocation.
Gething has studied the site for years from the vantage point of her insurance agency, which sits on the river at the northeast corner of the space. She said she had been involved in previous downtown development proposals.
Connecting the Whole Riverfront
A concept drawing created by architect Duane Grove, of Northport, suggests two rows of duplexes, a total of 18 units in nine buildings staggered so each has a view of the river.
Grove works for Somerville Architects and Engineers, of Green Bay, but has worked on this project on his own time.
There’s public green space expanded back from the existing river trail, with parking for park and condo visitors.
There’s 18,000 square feet, or more, for retail or other business.
A pedestrian bridge crosses the river at the west end of the new neighborhood to Taft Park and connects to a walkway along the sea wall on the south side of the river.
So far, it’s just a concept.
The developers would need to acquire the land from the city – including the Curt’s barbershop property, which they said was a key component of retail and rental development on the site.
General contractor George Seater Jr., of GRS Development LLC in Racine, mentioned payment of $1 for the site.
No price has been discussed, according to city administrator and economic development director Kent Hager.
“Nobody really talked about a dollar figure, other than they suggested it be at a dollar,” Hager said the next day. “I think it’s fair to say the city council would view the cost of the property based on the value of the improvements. We don’t have a lot invested into the property.”
Gething said that to make the project something developers will sink money in, it needs to be one piece, including the barbershop property.
That end of the site could provide more than 18,000 square feet of land for restaurant or retail, with apartments above and parking for tenants and customers.
“We’d maximize the site by going up,” Grove said, nixing one-story construction.
Dollar General had been interested in the barbershop property, which is owned by the city. Hager indicated that was no longer the case.
“We are not under contract for our portion of the property at this time,” he said June 20. “The Dollar General proposal that was on the table is off the table. They are looking at other alternatives.”
Another key is private docks for condo owners. High-end residences not directly on the riverbank will need boat slips to sell, according to these developers.
“One critical piece is boating,” Gething said.
“Boat slips would be huge in helping sell the property,” Seater said.
Reinventing the River
“Do you like the concept?” Gething asked the economic development committee.
Some said yes, others nodded their heads. No one said no.
Dona Gabert, a member of the city Planning Commission, noted that New London’s history is logging, not fishing.
“Who logs?” Gething asked, emphasizing the need to reinvent the downtown and riverfront to sell condos.
Architect Grove said the funky fishing village was “more a concept of neighborhood rather than bricks and mortar.”
The site poses challenges – from river setbacks to underground pipes, slope and soil, easements and access. They limit how much of it is buildable.
Because it is visible from all directions, Grove said, the project would need “two front doors.” Condo residents would have, in addition to a view of the river, a view of the back of buildings lining the river on the south side.
Grove said landscaping and lighting could soften that view.
“It’s quirky, but it’s got merit to it,” he said, suggesting that a cleanup, new electrical boxes and banning garbage from roofs would enhance the view.
Gething suggested that removing a building to create space for trash containers mid-block could improve the appearance.
Along with Grove and Seater, Gething brought Appleton builder Scott Roshak, of Roshak Builders Inc., to the presentation.
Seater, who listed among his skills bringing a project in under budget and on time, cut to the chase: Will enough condos fit on the site to make it profitable to develop?
“It’s a very small piece of land. Is there enough space?” he asked. “We’ll price it out, do the math.”