old bridge approach land can be our Central Park
A significant topic of discussion at recent city council meetings has been our desired reuse of the plot of land that our Downtown Master Plan calls George Street Landing (GSL). This small piece of land served as the approach to the old Claude Allouez Bridge for decades until the bridge was torn down in 2007. It’s located between Front St and N Broadway, at the end of George St.
As a result of discussions lasting over a year, the city is now purchasing the land from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation for $79,000 (read more about how we obtained the land in my blog post from November 2012). A condition of the purchase is that we must designate the land for public use (as opposed to selling it for private development). Fortunately, all community members I’ve spoken to, all local business owners who have shared their opinions at public meetings, along with all 8 alderpersons on the city council (including me) agree that it should be set aside for public use.
So now at some point soon, we’ll have the task of figuring out exactly what that public use will be. Today, the site is comprised of a small plot of grass and a parking lot for 35 cars. But there are many future possibilities. We could make it a simple city park with benches, sidewalks, and trees. We could add more elaborate seating, fountains, an amphitheater, statues, etc. We could keep some of it for parking.
One of the key features of this land is that as you’re looking west over the land from N Broadway, you have a great view of the Fox River and our new De Pere Riverwalk. This is the very spot where Fr. Claude Allouez established a mission in 1671, an event that gave us our name “Les Rapides de Peres”, the rapids of the fathers. Whatever we do with the land and whatever we build on it, we need to preserve this unique view.
Our Downtown Master Plan (2010) spells out a number of ideas for the land (beginning on page 78), including much talk of a marketplace and other development. Given all the discussions that have taken place thus far, I don’t see any of that private use happening. I was impressed by some ideas presented to the city by architect Marc Brummel, whose company Brummel Architectural Group has its office in the building adjacent to the land. I like his ideas of combining open space with features like a fountain and functional areas like an amphitheater. He also includes a certain amount of parking. His ideas firmly establish this land as a very functional and central focal point of our downtown.
Whether we implement a plan like Brummel’s or not, I think our use needs to be along the lines of what he proposes. I also like an analogy that Jerry Turba, another owner of adjacent business property, used at a city council meeting a year ago, when he said that this piece of land can be for De Pere what Central Park is to New York. Of course it’s on a much smaller scale, but he’s right, this land can indeed be our Central Park.