As the next step in a planning process begun in the mid 1970’s, the vision presented here is a proposal for the revitalization of the Northeast Riverfront District, the City of Wausau’s former industrial land along the Wisconsin River. Prior to this, the City had substantially developed its plan for the central downtown and completed its purchase of most of the long dormant Northeast Riverfront District. At the next stage, the City hired a team of graduate student architects and planners with UW-Milwaukee’s Community Design Solutions (CDS) to adopt relevant recommendations from previous plans, integrate input from the community, and apply their skills and knowledge of modern design principles to create an urban landscape vision that stimulates further public input, planning, and decision-making. City officials and City Planner Brad Lenz had decided to bring an outside student group in for this project to provide fresh eyes for the task of creatively revitalizing a landscape that for so long had symbolized Wausau’s industrial decline.
Community Design Solutions collaborated with the City to identify their needs as a vibrant community and to help inform the vision for a 21st century urban riverfront. The two major dynamics within the design concept are the bond created between “natural” and “man-made,” and the harmony of the past and present. A reoccurring theme was the need to link the project site to the central business district as well as the adjacent residential areas. It was quickly realized that the site was the evident missing component to complete the City’s central revitalization. An example of how the team ultimately addressed the absent connections was to propose the completion of the pedestrian trail along the riverbank. Of equal importance to the element of connection was the desire to incorporate ecological urban landscape concepts that address the site’s design opportunities. These include the existing flood plain area, natural habitat restoration, and bioremediation options for contaminated ground beneath industrial foundations. These newly proposed schemes would offer solutions for the rehabilitation of existing structures as well as creative opportunities for smart design practices in new developments.
One of the project’s strengths was the “process” in which the team worked closely with local officials, area businesses, professionals and residents of all ages to gather their views on the project site and revitalization. Starting in May of 2011, the team conducted repeated site visits and a hands-on analysis of the site’s dynamics. The following month of June, the team revisited the site and led a series of community- based design charrettes. These charrettes enabled the CDS team to gather invaluable community input. Between July and September, the team reviewed the previous research and resulting charrette maps, synthesizing them into a preliminary vision. This draft presentation was delivered to City officials at the end of September for review and feedback. From this point, the team finalized a Master Plan Vision that was presented to both City officials and community members in the form of an Open House event on January 16 of 2012.
The vision created is a revitalized network of entwined natural and built communities in which the past and present are in harmony. The core concepts are visual interconnection, procedural access, and walkability. Specific design recommendations were largely based on diversifying land use, creating an array of activities, achieving connectivity, improving and designing ways to sustain a healthy environment, and creating a unique identity for the site. Premier acreage is devoted to preferred land use possibilities and best sustainable practices. The CDS team envisioned the Northeast Riverfront District as a unique “place” that entices both the community and tourists to frequent downtown Wausau more often and young professionals and families to move into or closer to Downtown.
IMAGE CREDIT: Community Design Solutions