By Brandi Makuski
Wisconsin Rapids Mayor Zach Vruwink said he’s hoping to bring some big changes to part of the city’s riverfront. Vruwink said the city is eyeing some potential upgrades for about a two-mile stretch of public riverfront space, and he’s hoping it will help spur local development.
“We’re thinking a lot about how the river can breath renewed life into this community,” Vruwink said. “The Wisconsin River breathed economic life into this area in the late 1880s, early 1900s, when the timber and forest industry started here and then grew into paper-making. So with respect to the history, with respect to the natural resource it is, how can we leverage that resource to become more of a catalyst for other developments? From the economic standpoint we’re thinking about, there are larger communities that are ahead of us in this game that have realized [the water] is an asset..,and we need to capitalize on it.”
Vruwink said the city already owns the waterfront property, which includes park space and several miles of walking trails- amenities which he says add to the quality of life in the area.
“So we’re looking to leverage the asset, the natural beauty we have, to move beyond the stigma of a paper mill- a dying paper mill- in the community,” he said.
Vruwink said specific projects along the waterfront are likely to improve that image, and are expected to add opportunities for future redevelopment and job creation in the area.
“We’re very much convinced that- and other communities that have done this have demonstrated- once a city invests in itself with some of these public spaces, private investors will also invest- and they invest in different ways,” he said. “So we’re looking at a very large investment along the east river bank.”
The project will focus on the section of riverfront property between Riverview Expressway and the northern Wisconsin Rapids city limits. Vruwink said the city is working with Rep. Scott Krug to secure some state funding via a Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR) grant.
Vruwin said some of the additions will include an east river bank walking trail to mirror a long-existing trail on the west bank, along with fishing piers, handicap-accessible waterfront space, scenic overlooks, picnic areas with grills and a park shelter.
“If you’ve ever been to a larger city like Milwaukee and you look at the park and go, ‘Wow, I want to come back here, spend some time here’…we don’t have a lot of those amenities here,” Vruwink said, noting events like Milwaukee’s Summerfest and Riverfront Rendezvous in Stevens Point spur development interest, and bring a hefty cash infusion, in their respective communities.
“Outside of our Fourth of July, and maybe a harvest fest, we don’t have those programmatic events that bring people here,” he said. “They go to [Stevens] Point, or they go to Wausau. By way of these new public spaces, we hope we will become more attractive to folks.”
Vruwink said City Council has not yet approved the plans, and while he wouldn’t disclose the estimated cost of the project, he did say totaled “over $1 million”.
“There’s a laundry list of things we want to do…things are just so preliminary, everything is so comprehensive right now,” he said, adding the project could span three years. The proposal will likely come before the Council in September, he said.