Creating a new public riverfront for Monona
NEEDS: As a rapidly maturing city in Dane County, the City of Monona aimed to increase its urban density while embracing its only remaining opportunity to provide its residents with a dynamic and vibrant waterfront destination. In 2012, The City and Community Development Authority began working closely with Vandewalle & Associates to assemble six underutilized properties adjacent to the Yahara River into a major 8.5-acre redevelopment project. This multi-phase project became the largest redevelopment in the City’s history—and a significant new landmark for Monona. Key goals of the project included:
- Creating a year-round community destination and gathering area
- Enhancing public accessibility to the waterfront
- Increasing property value while maximizing property tax income and economic value
- Eliminating deteriorating buildings, blighting influences and environmental deficiencies
- Diversifying the housing stock while improving conditions in the neighborhood
- Remediating the site, adding green space, and improving stormwater management
- Assembling the land into functionally adaptable parcels for redevelopment
SERVICES. To advance the project, the V&A team provided a range of services throughout all stages including:
- Market and impact analysis, site surveys, and technical reports
- Tax increment finance district and statutory redevelopment plan preparation
- Site vision, concept development plan
- Public space design and theming
- Ongoing coordination for demolition of existing buildings and creation of new infrastructure
- Site pro forma and developer recruitment
- Financial analysis of the developer proposals and development agreements
CHALLENGES. The site posed a complex set of unique challenges to the V&A’s experienced design and project management teams, including:
- Project scale. The project’s mid-size proved one of the highest hurdles for development—a scale too large for a single smaller developer, yet without enough massing potential for the largest developers. To create the right fit, the team met with a number of developers and adjusted the proportions of parking- to-uses … thirteen times in all, in order to find the combination that worked for the right developer. Even through these adjustments, the original vision for the project developed by V&A designers remained constant.
- Parking requirements and aesthetics. In many ways the project’s design and financial success were both tied to the need to accommodate sufficient parking without detracting from the aesthetics of the site or its public open space. A solution was devised that required digging an underground parking level below the level of the river, with a surface lot above. This plan required extra reinforcement of the surface lot, as well as a creative building design that screened the exposed side of the underground lot from the public space.
- Designing a riverfront for all users. Early in the process, the public space was determined to be the key asset making for boosting the value of the property by providing the city’s only public access to the river. The space also connects to Monona’s heavily used Lake Loop Bike Trail. V&A designers were challenged to make the space feel open to the public while serving three buildings, and offering the option to section off for special events. A kayak/canoe launch and transient boating slips were integrated into the space for use by residents, visitors and restaurant patrons. Other programmed uses for this unique public space include gathering, small events, music, yoga classes, ice skating and a fire pit, with integrated seating and steps into the water. The public space features also include B-cycle and bike service stations, portable hammocks and theatrical lighting.
- Environmental challenges. A brownfield parcel on the site required remediation prior to redevelopment. Construction of new impervious surfaces in limited space led to creative stormwater management. Rain gardens integrated into parking and public spaces detain and filter runoff before it reaches the river.
PHASES COMPLETED. Project development of this $60 million project known as “The Current” spans three phases, with various public improvements taking shape throughout the early phases:
- Public Improvements: A 0.6 acre public, waterfront public space with 23 new public docks, firepit and entertainment stage, to be maintained and programmed by the City of Monona Parks Department.
- Phase I: This most challenging phase also served to establish the marketplace. It involved demolition of existing facilities, remediation, and development of a mixed-use, approximately $14 million redevelopment project. The new building opened in early summer of 2019 with 96 rental residential units and approximately 25,000 square feet of commercial uses. Due to the success of the first phase—with near-full residential leasing and success of the restaurant—construction on subsequent phases moved up on the timeline. The popular Buck & Honey’s restaurant is bustling on the first and lower dock floors; The Tasting Room and offices occupy the remainder of the first floor; residential units with river and city views fill out the upper floors.
- Phase II: A second residential structure with an additional 140-160 units is underway.
- Phase III: Construction of the 92-room Avid Hotel a is in progress and expected to open in summer 2019.