Through the Front Door

the newly planned gateway to Chippewa’s downtown

Emily Kuhn

The above rendering is by no means a final design plan, but gives a good idea of what the entrance into downtown Chippewa Falls (from Bridge St) could look like.
 
The above rendering is by no means a final design plan, but gives a good idea of what the entrance into downtown Chippewa Falls (from Bridge St) could look like.

As has been the practice for years, many cities use nearby waterways as their “back doors,” with rivers and streams acting as transportation routes for industrial businesses. Similar to what Eau Claire is doing with its downtown, Chippewa Falls plans to turn its waterway into the city’s “front door” by transforming a 10- to 15-acre area of riverfront property along Bridge and River streets into revitalized park and commercial space. Doing so, the city predicts, will position Chippewa Falls for years of growth and improvement.

“We’re not just doing it to make a park. We’re doing it so the park will stimulate other property owners to invest in properties and do other things, and that’s what we’re seeing now.” – Chippewa Falls City Planner Jayson Smith

“The potential is astounding,” said Jayson Smith, Chippewa Falls City Planner. “This will dramatically change the entrance to Chippewa Falls.”

The city first established its desire to revitalize the entrance in the 1999 comprehensive plan, but the recent Highway 29 Bypass completion, which reduced the amount of truck traffic downtown, gave the city its opportunity to take action. A resolution to move forward was formerly adopted in 2007; since then, the city has purchased five properties, demolished three buildings, and has another scheduled to be demolished this spring. With the completion of the lift station and collection system upgrade in 2010, the city was also able to blacktop a retention pond and free up more needed riverfront property. All of these steps bring residents closer to enjoying what could soon be significant park space with an amphitheater, farmers market, and improved water access; new buildings, street trees, and pedestrian crossings on River and Bridge streets; and two-way traffic on Bridge Street between Spring and River. There are even plans for a roundabout at one of the main intersections.

“Almost all of the properties we’re changing are vacant, not being used, or are underutilized,” stated Smith. “We’ve been working on this and assembling the property and pushing to do this for years, and we’re not doing it just to make a park. We’re doing it so the park will stimulate other property owners to invest in properties and do other things, and that’s what we’re seeing now.”

The city is working with Chippewa Falls-based engineering firm SEH Inc., La Crosse private developer Warren Loveland, and a third party yet to be identified. Loveland’s plans include demolishing the Plaza Building at 105 N. Bridge St. and renovating the Hong Kong House at 15 Spring St., creating commercial space on the first floors and apartments on upper floors. SEH plans to build and relocate to a new office building next door to Three Flags on Spring Street, bringing with them 70-90 employees. A third party may develop the Empire Building on Spring Street. The city is also contemplating a farmers market for the lot on West River and Bridge and parking for the market at 13 N. Bridge St. Finally, the city is in the process of acquiring property at 28 S. Bridge St. across from Allen Park, the railroad property that runs behind Chippewa Valley Roof and Siding to the river, and the former Mason Shoe Building at 228 W. River St.

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