Down by the River: Chippewa Falls will seek private funds to finish Riverfront Park

Tom Giffey

The City of Chippewa Falls will turn to private donors to help complete an ambitious effort to create a park along the Chippewa River downtown.

The city has already spent $3 million on the first phase of Riverfront Park, where construction is ongoing this summer. Grading and environmental remediation have been done at the site, says City Planner Jayson Smith, and now paths, an entry plaza, and fountains are being built. Landscaping with plants, flowers, bushes, trees, and turf will follow, as will the construction of a seating area along the river.

But for the full park vision to be realized, the public soon will be asked to pitch in. The city recently hired a consulting firm to prepare a plan to raise $2 million to complete the second phase of the park. The proposed fundraising campaign would begin later this year and extend into 2017, with the park slated for completion by 2018. “The study is essential as it will assess our current planning and will assist the city council in identifying an appropriate strategy for the park’s proposed fundraising plans,” Smith says.

The consulting firm, Minnesota-based Crescendo Fundraising Professionals, helped raise $4 million to expand Irvine Park Zoo. The firm has already conducted interviews and focus groups about the park project, and a study about the fundraising effort will be brought to the City Council on July 19. Smith says he expects the council to recommend moving ahead with a capital campaign, which will be well underway by the end of summer.

To help gather information for the campaign, Chippewa Falls residents are encouraged to take an online survey at www.chippewafalls-wi.gov. The deadline for the survey is Sunday, July 10.

Work has been underway for several years at the new park site, which lies south of downtown Chippewa Falls bordered by Bridge Street, River Street, and the Chippewa River, not far from the Xcel Energy dam. Overall, when the cost of property purchases and nearby street reconstruction are considered, the city has spent $11 million to improve the area in recent years, Smith says. The $3 million already spent on the park comes through a Tax Increment Financing district.

However, limits on the city’s debt load as well as the cost of other city projects – including a new fire station – will make it impossible for the city to proceed with the next phase of the project without private donations, Smith says. Phase II of park construction will include the creation of an amphitheater, more fountains and lighting, permanent restrooms, benches and picnic areas, an entryway to the park from Bay Street, and more.

If all goes as planned – and community donors open their wallets – downtown Chippewa Falls will look dramatically different in a few short years.