Public Welcome: Sturgeon Bay’s West Waterfront could be transformed this year

Believe it or not, the Sturgeon Bay West Waterfront will look dramatically different by the end of the year. At least that’s what Sturgeon Bay leaders said they hoped for during a Feb. 10 open house to gather public input on a plan for the West Waterfront promenade.

The plan developed by Cedar Corporation engineers and the SEH architectural firm would retain the tugs along the waterfront while creating public access and viewpoints and providing a prominent connection between spurs of the public waterfront. 

For years, the city has debated whether it could have both a working waterfront and public access, but Cedar Corporation engineer Thad Majkowski said it’s not a difficult proposal. 

“By elevating the overlook, we’re able to give people clear views of the water and accommodate the tugs,” he said.

The plan also calls for a grade separation between the tug platforms and the primary walkway, buttressed by a fence of bushes and high-canopied trees. That gives tug operators room to work and access the breakwall while giving pedestrians a clear sign that they’re welcome to stroll the area. 

The West Waterfront has long been an uninviting space that cuts off two ends of the waterfront path. The new promenade would connect the two while framing the historic grain elevator, Steel Bridge, working tugs and new Maritime Lighthouse Tower. Rendering and photo courtesy of the City of Sturgeon Bay.

In response to the council’s concerns, Cedar Corporation altered the plans to include trees with a taller canopy to allow for more view corridors. 

Several council members and city staff said the response to the plan has been largely positive. During the open house, attendees were invited to place sticky notes with ideas for tweaks on the plan images. Some citizen suggestions included handrails along the steps, dark-sky-friendly lighting and extending the overlook out over the water.

Earlier plans had called for such an extension, but the current plan only includes accommodations for that to potentially be added in the future. Majkowski said it would add significant costs to the project that can’t be determined until a design is created. 

The promenade project comes with an estimated price tag of about $900,000. A state grant would cover $457,000 of that cost. 

The city hopes to complete the project this year, ideally coordinating its opening with the ribbon cutting for the Maritime Lighthouse Tower in late October. 

“I just want us to have a big impact and show progress without spending too much money,” Alder Dan Williams said. 

The project does not address the entire West Waterfront parcel that has been the subject of controversy for most of the last decade, but it does call for the Teweles and Brandeis grain elevator to stay in its original location. 

Sturgeon Bay Mayor David Ward said that the city has a signed contract to keep it there. If it chose to move the granary to the edge of the property near the Oregon Street Bridge, as the West Waterfront Ad Hoc Planning Committee recommended, the city would be responsible for the related costs and would end up owning the structure, which it has said it does not want to do. 

The plan would add greenery to the West Waterfront – something that’s been absent since the city’s earliest days. The project does not include plans for the center of the West Waterfront property. 

Laurel Hauser was co-chair of the committee and said the plan accomplishes the heart of what it had set out to do.

“The mainstay of our plan was our 12 principles and guidelines,” Hauser said. “I think this fulfills all of them.”

Ward said the promenade sends a positive message to the community and developers. 

“For developers, this is saying these people can get something done,” he said. “For the city, it demonstrates the council can work together.”

If all goes as planned, the West Waterfront could have a new maritime tower, promenade, wayfinding signage and restored granary by the end of the year. 

“I hope this will make people forget some of the battles to get here,” Williams said as dozens of citizens strolled around the community room at City Hall to get a closer look at the plan.

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