Two firms considered for riverfront development
By Scott Bellile
The New London Economic Development Committee threw its support behind a Fox Valley-based partnership to head development of a 6-acre lot along the Wolf River.
At the committee’s May 30 meeting, committee members, city officials and several local residents agreed that New London should negotiate a contract with a partnership of two firms, Stadtmueller & Associates and Short Elliott Hendrickson.
On May 16, Stadtmueller & Associates and SEH partnership presented thoughts on how to enhance the vacant city-owned lot during a joint meeting of the economic development committee and the New London Public Library and Museum Board. Representatives from the two firms focused largely but not exclusively on the feasibility of a mixed-use public library.
The library wants a new facility to meet 21st-century patrons’ needs. The mixed-use concept’s private-public development partnership could lower construction costs by incorporating commercial or residential space under the same roof as public space.
Committee members were satisfied with the depth the firms offered during their presentation.
On May 9, Todd Hutchison of Wisconsin Redevelopment presented his ideas at a joint meeting of the same committees. His talk centered more on residential development for the riverfront, but he occasionally mentioned the possibility of a mixed-use library.
“We will be moving ahead with the [development of the] rest of the property with or without the library,” Committee Chairman Dave Morack explained. “We want the library. It would be a win-win situation. But if the library decision doesn’t fly for whatever reason, we still want to move ahead.”
Library board member Virginia Schlais said May 30 the Stadtmueller & Associates and SEH partnership exhibited promise with its larger staff size and its recent completion of the mixed-use Kaukauna Public Library.
“The partnership was more desirable because of all the resources that they have, and the depth of resources and their experience,” Schlais said. “Tackling that Kaukauna project was a huge thing and they stuck with it and they saw it to the end and it is a success.”
Resident Julie Blohm, who attended May 30, liked Stadtmueller & Associates President Randall Stadtmueller’s commitment to holding numerous public forums to help shape the project.
“Mr. Hutchison, to me his bottom line was not about listening to the people,” she said. “His bottom line, in his own admission, was he will depend more on the architects, developers, bankers and real estate brokers.”
At the May 9 joint meeting, Hutchison said public input would be part of the project, but “one of the problems with doing that is that sometimes you end up with a lot of parts. Everybody wants a part and it’s not something that makes sense financially or realistically.” That’s where he said organizing planning meetings with professionals within the industry would be more beneficial.
Committee member and First District Alderman John Faucher also favored the partnership but called Hutchison “a talented architect.” Having previously pitched an affordable housing project on that same site, New London native Hutchison has been researching that plot for years. Faucher said the partnership, if selected, should contract Hutchison in some capacity if it collaborates with outside firms.
Economic development committee member David Asman, on the other hand, felt Hutchison presented what he perceived as “a rehash” of his past riverfront development that the city council voted down.
“Why do you bring something up a second time that was rejected the first time? That is a big question mark in my mind,” Asman said. “By the same token, the partnership, it was clear they had done their homework very well.”
New London Mayor Gary Henke, a former shop teacher at New London High School, said Hutchison was his architecture class student. His work since graduation in 1980 –restored historic buildings visible in Milwaukee, Manitowoc and Oshkosh – has turned out “very, very well.” Still, Henke favored the partnership.
Economic development committee member and Second District Alderwoman Mary Tate disagreed with the partnership’s pitch of a library along the Wolf River. She said a new library belongs across the street from the current library on Pearl Street.
This month the city is set to demolish two buildings that residents Milt and Trudy Staskal and Fourth District Alderman Ron Steinhorst donated to the library several years ago, anticipating a new library would be built there. The library will raze them regardless because of their poor conditions.
Faucher reminded everyone Pearl Street remains a prospective location for a new library.
Regarding a mixed-use library idea along the Wolf River, Tate said, “I thought it was so grandeur for New London. I mean it’s beautiful, but I can’t see that there.”
“Why not? What’s wrong with New London? Why can’t we have something grandiose?” Henke asked. He said the city hall where everyone was assembled at the moment is grandiose, but it serves its purpose.
City Administrator Kent Hager told the committee to consider itself fortunate that two development parties are competing for the opportunity to help. Past discussions have not led to action since the now-defunct Wolf River Lumber donated the lot to the city more than a decade ago.
“We’ve been trying to entice developers here the better part of 10 years and, frankly I’m surprised we got as lucky as we did,” Hager said. “I think we’ve got a real good choice and I don’t think we could go backwards by choosing either [developer].”
The economic development committee voted 8-1 to recommend that the partnership of Stadtmueller & Associates and SEH draft a contract to develop concepts for the property. Absent for the vote was alternate committee member Kitty Johnson.
The contract would undergo review by the city prior to approval.
Voting yes were committee members Morack, Tate, Faucher, Asman, Steinhorst, Gordy Schirpke, Bill Bishop and April Kopitzke.
Voting no was Tom O’Connell, who questioned why a vote was underway when the city was not given project cost estimates from beginning to end. Henke replied this is the early planning stage, and estimates would come later if the city becomes serious about construction.
At a special library board meeting held Monday, June 5, the board voted to support Stadtmueller & Associates and SEH as well.