Banking on the Future
plans proceed for West Bank redevelopment
A new plan for the redevelopment of Eau Claire’s West Bank neighborhood includes plenty of green space, trails, overlooks, and other ways to enjoy an underappreciated stretch of the Chippewa River just north of downtown Eau Claire. The city Redevelopment Authority recently got a look at a conceptual plan of what the riverside neighborhood could look like in the near future.
The draft plan, created by Ayres Associates, features two trails – a primary one for walking and biking and a secondary one closer to the water for fishing and other recreational uses – as well as six scenic overlooks and a tube launch. There are also a string of parks and green spaces along the river between the soon-to-be-refurbished High Bridge in the north and Madison Street in the south. The plan also calls for the redevelopment of Kessler Field, a small neighborhood park, and the creation of a new park to replace it.
The draft plan features riverside trails – both for walkers and bikers and those seeking to reach the water for fishing and other recreation – as well as scenic overlooks and a tube and kayak launch.
Mike Schatz, the city’s economic development administrator, says planning for the public spaces in the West Bank should be finalized this summer.
Currently, the West Bank (a thin strip north of Madison Street and east of Oxford Avenue) is largely a patchwork of vacant, overgrown land and rundown industrial properties, many of them already owned by the city or the RDA. In April, the RDA approved the purchase of two more properties just east of Oxford Avenue – one a building owned by Indianhead Foods, the other a vacant lot. Those deals are expected to close this summer. Depending on funding – and the willingness of a few more property owners to sell – land purchases in the neighborhood could be completed within a year or two, Schatz said. By then, the city and RDA will own roughly 30 acres, which Schatz hopes will attract developers from Eau Claire and beyond. “You want them thinking about it, even if it’s not ready to go next year or the year after,” Schatz said.
Schatz envisions a mixture of commercial and residential development in the neighborhood, similar to that in the North Barstow area, although less dense. The city is also exploring the possibility of creating a year-round public food market there (see story on Page 8).
While acknowledging that the redevelopment of the North Barstow area has taken a decade (and counting), city leaders are optimistic the West Bank project could happen more swiftly. “We’re mature downtown revitalizers by now,” says City Council President Kerry Kincaid. “We have momentum on our side, we have economic interest that is calling us and asking if it can part of downtown. We’re not starting out like we were with a brownfield.”