Developers with their eye on vacant land along the south side of the river downtown want the city to improve the view to the north.
Karen Gething returned to the New London Economic Development Committee on Tuesday, Oct. 29, with an update on plans for a 6-acre parcel with a view of the river.
Gething said the other side of the river was not appealing.
She asked the city to consider improvements when the river wall along the alley is rebuilt. The city recently hired a firm to design the new river wall.
One building along the alley has boarded-up windows and a sagging balcony. Ladders lean against walls. Storage sheds are tucked into corners. Mismatched hulking commercial dumpsters squat behind buildings. Utility poles sprout wires in all directions, delivery wagons and private vehicles crowd the narrow space.
Gething operates a downtown insurance agency along the river. She is working with contractor George Seater Jr., of Racine, on development plans for the city-owned parcel of land, bordered roughly by the river, South Pearl Street, Wolf River Avenue and Saputo Cheese.
She said their discussion “always comes back to what to do with the other side of the river.”
Their plans have changed from condos to apartments, because it is not possible to have private boat docks for condo owners.
“A high-end apartment complex would fit beautifully in our downtown,” Gething said. “We’re putting the numbers together.”
Mayor Gary Henke noted a demand for apartments among young workers and older retirees.
“Downtown is an added plus,” Gething said.
In June, architect Duane Grove of Northport suggested that landscaping and lighting along the north bank could improve the view from the other side of the river. A cleanup, new electrical boxes and possibly making space to gather all dumpsters mid-block would help.
Henke said the city could convert some parking space for dumpsters.
“We are moving forward,” he said.
“Good,” Gething said, noting that “millions would be spent” on riverside development.
Gething has not abandoned her “funky fishing village” concept for the Wolf River in New London; she’s relocated it upstream to the former Simmons factory property.
Gething suggested a KOA-type campground with showers, shops and boat slips would attract tourists and be a boon to the city.
That site, too, has its problems.
“The buildings are worthless,” Gething said.
Market Improving, Still Slow
J. Turner Bomier, of Bomier Properties Inc., the commercial realtors and developers trying to market the downtown riverside property Gething is interested in, asked the committee to renew his contract.
Bomier said the market had improved since 2009, and would get better — although change happens slowly in New London.
The river is not holding back sale of the property, Bomier said, adding, however, that “it’s not the attraction to other people the way it is.”
He asked if the city would consider use other than residential for the property, or reconsider a previously rejected plan to build apartments on the site.
Henke said he didn’t object to commercial development, but the city doesn’t want manufacturing on the site.
Committee members weighed in against reconsidering the prior plan. Some said they had visited apartments built by that developer and found them to be poor quality. The plan had garages facing the river, which also drew objections.
“Garages should never be facing the river. People should be facing the river,” she said.
The committee voted to renew the city’s contract with Bomier for another six months.
The owner of a successful small business told the committee she doesn’t want to be the downtown anchor and urged city support for new small businesses.
Beth and Jeremy Hutchison opened Familiar Grounds in 1996.
When she told people she was going to open a coffee shop, Beth Hutchison said, no one was excited — not the chamber of commerce, banks or city.
That left a sour taste, Hutchison said, “but I had my mind made up.”
Committee chairman Dave Morack said the city was looking for ways to bring in new business and help existing businesses.
“We hope we’re business-friendly,” said Mayor Gary Henke.
Hutchison has helped other start-up entrepreneurs.
Currently, the Sweet Magnolia Cakery baker rents the Familiar Grounds kitchen part-time to create wedding and other custom cakes. Hutchison offered early support to Amanda Cupcake, whose cake pops now are wildly popular. High school students plan to sublet space at Familiar Grounds for a short-term, small-scale business selling Bulldog paraphernalia.
Hutchison also welcomes other new small businesses. She mentioned two new resale and craft consignment shops along north Shawano Street.
She told the committee her coffee shop customers are largely local, but her gift shop is a destination for patrons from out of the area.
“I do all my shopping local, everything I can,” she said. “A lot of people like to ‘shop small.’”
The network of small independent shops stretches from Weyauwega to Appleton, using social media, email, fliers and word of mouth to build trade.
Hutchison welcomes competition.
“I want more stores in town,” she said. “I don’t like being the downtown anchor.”