The West Waterfront Redevelopment Plan – Part II of II

The City of Sturgeon Bay is pursuing a redevelopment plan for its largely vacant West Side waterfront. The city owns some of the land proposed for redevelopment, and Freedom Bank owns the old Co-op piece. The city is seeking several grants for further study and development for the plan that includes competitive and subsidized rentals, a four-season food market and a hotel. In his second of two articles reviewing the plan, contributor Tom Groenfeldt focuses on the project’s residential aspects. 

Sturgeon Bay desperately needs more people downtown year ‘round to support its businesses. With prominent storefronts standing empty on Third Avenue and Jefferson Street and some underused spaces on the West Side, drawing more people, not more commercial, should be the primary goal of the West Waterfront Redevelopment Plan.

Does the waterfront really need a Panera Bread or Cosi, staples of food courts in malls across America, when the Greystone is right across the parking lot? Its interior, perhaps unchanged since the 1950s, could easily become hip retro. It and Kitty O’Reilly’s a block away offer excellent food at reasonable prices.

Fortunately, the plan does offer some intelligent ideas for more housing, starting with converting an existing warehouse building and constructing a new building with complementary design on Madison Avenue and Maple Street for what it calls “workforce residential.” That means regular working people or retirees, not tourists from Chicago.

Martin Olejniczak, the city’s community development director, said the apartments could attract young professionals.

“We don’t have that anywhere in Sturgeon Bay,” he said.

The Madison Avenue frontage would continue to be commercial. The proposal is to add three stories to provide about 30 apartments in the existing building and using some of the ground floor warehouse space for covered parking, an excellent amenity. Adding a new four-story building at the location could provide another 40 apartments. The plan also proposes new residential construction on Larch Street, across from the Bridgeport Resort, perhaps with access to the resort’s facilities. The site could accommodate about 48 units.

One hundred-plus units of new housing in town could provide a real boost to local businesses, and create a bit of street life between Sonny’s Pizza, the Greystone, Kitty O’Reilly’s, Glas, the Blue Front Café, the Steel Street Bridge Cafe and a renovated Applebee’s, which offers a great view that was marred by poor food and service. Housing with such easy walking to a couple of good bars could make a serious dent in DUI arrests. Or, alternatively, the complexes could set aside a couple of furnished apartments to rent for the duration of a driver’s license suspension.

Since the plan calls for keeping the 83-foot tall Co-op granary as a landmark, why not get a little more ambitious with the waterfront and go for drama, height and density? Think of a residential building with rental apartments or condos running to the granary’s height, say seven or eight floors? Put enclosed parking on the ground level, perhaps with the four-season food market on the waterfront edge of the building to avoid a blank wall. That would raise the first floor of residential above the tugs.

The design could angle back the east and west wings at 45 degrees for people who don’t want to look out on an actual working marine view – they can look off to the canal on one side or past the Michigan Avenue Bridge to the bay on the other. The first and second floors on the Michigan Avenue end could even accommodate an expansion of the Maritime Museum.

To avoid blocking off the waterfront from city residents who don’t live there, run a full-height atrium through it and perhaps locate a small coffee shop or bar to make the passageway inviting.

The site plan also calls for a hotel perpendicular to the water and set back from the waterfront. This non-intuitive site location would provide views over the bridges on each side and out to the bay.

The West Waterfront Redevelopment Plan holds great potential for the City of Sturgeon Bay, but a closer look that includes looking at successes and failures of past efforts suggests the city would be wise to proceed with caution.