Community shares riverfront visions
Workshop aids planners in redevelopment
By Scott Bellile
Residents offered planners their opinions on how to enhance the city of New London’s downtown and Wolf River corridor during a community visioning session.
The two-hour event on Sept. 20 sought the perspectives of locals and businesspeople who know the area and desire a thriving downtown.
The event was held at the Washington Center and coordinated by East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, Stadtmueller & Associates Placemaking and Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc.
Randy Stadtmueller, president of Stadtmueller & Associates, said he was happy about 35 people came out to provide the firms a useful baseline of information.
“I think what I’m always curious about starting on a project in a community is what does the civic capital look like? Who really cares about this community and wants to do something? We saw a lot of that and I think we have a nice base to start to build on and that was our objective,” Stadtmueller said.
Reason for workshop
The ECWRPC and the two-firm partnership are working with New London officials to formulate a development plan for the vacant, 6-acre, city-owned parcel on Wolf River Avenue.
Under the $88,500 contract the New London City Council approved in July, the partnership has until the end of 2018 to deliver a land usage recommendation to the city.
The idea that has drawn much attention in the past year for New London’s riverfront is a mixed-use library.
The facility would combine a new public library with residential and/or commercial uses in one building. Stadtmueller said this would create a tax base, reduce the library’s cost to taxpayers and enhance the riverfront.
He estimated constructing a mixed-use library could cost $7 million to $12 million.
Nothing is approved yet. Other concepts for the land being explored include a commercial district and residential properties. The partnership is working to determine which concept is most feasible.
Event surveys residents
ECWRPC, Stadtmueller & Associates and SEH set up stations to survey attendees on their feelings and wishes for downtown.
They asked what types of housing the community could use: Single homes? Duplexes and attached townhouses? Mixed-use, two- to eight-story multi-family complexes?
Residents answered what types of commercial retail buildings they would like as well. Proposals include single retail buildings; strip malls; and mixed-use commercial buildings containing retail, offices, residences, outdoor seating and plazas.
Another exercise asked locals to drop dots on which areas are the “jewels” and the “junk” in New London. New London Public Library, Taft Park and Hatten Park received high marks. The 300 block of South Pearl Street and the North Water Street alley along the Wolf River did not.
Other exercises asked residents what their “big ideas” are and which downtown areas need new development.
New London resident Julie Blohm said the 6-acre parcel should be space everyone can enjoy, not private housing. She would like to see a mini mall with unique stores like craft shops and a health food store.
“You see places like Menasha and Cedarburg and they’re just thriving,” Blohm said. “We’ve got the river going right through the middle of this town. There’s no reason this town should be stagnant the way it is.”
Across the river she would like to see the North Water Street building facades facing the alley repainted, perhaps with murals representing the city’s history.
Dave Rex of New London disagrees with the city looking at the riverfront as a possible library site.
He said there was a reason three donors gifted the city two buildings on Pearl Street across from the current library, to be demolished and cleared for a new library. The city paid to raze them, Rex said, so it seems wrong to consider an alternative site now.
Rex said he also feels the city should have begun saving up for a library years ago. The era of local industries donating large dollar amounts to public projects appears to be over now that fewer companies are locally owned, he said, so the city “lost their opportunities years ago.”
His wife, Ruth Rex, clarified that the couple cares deeply about New London and would like to see a new library built, especially if it would give New London Public Museum more space to spread out in the building it currently shares with the library.
“We do love New London. … I [would] like it to keep its character. It’s got a nice homey feel,” she said.
New London Public Library Director Ann Hunt said she was pleased with the amount of participation at the event and she looks forward to reading attendees’ responses on how the library can be improved.
The firms anticipate holding a public meeting sometime in October to present what they learned to the community. The Press Star will report on their findings.