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East Riverfront Redevelopment Unfolds in Wausau

Promoted as the next generation of the city's revitalized urban waterfront along the Wisconsin River, the groundbreaking East Riverfront Redevelopment project continues to unfold in Wausau.

Wed May 17, 2017 - Midwest Edition #10
Cindy Riley

Becher-Hoppe Associates Inc. photo
Promoted as the next-generation of the city’s revitalized urban waterfront along the Wisconsin River, the groundbreaking East Riverfront Redevelopment project continues to unfold in Wausau
Becher-Hoppe Associates Inc. photo Promoted as the next-generation of the city’s revitalized urban waterfront along the Wisconsin River, the groundbreaking East Riverfront Redevelopment project continues to unfold in Wausau
Becher-Hoppe Associates Inc. photo
Promoted as the next-generation of the city’s revitalized urban waterfront along the Wisconsin River, the groundbreaking East Riverfront Redevelopment project continues to unfold in Wausau  Becher-Hoppe Associates Inc. photo
The East Riverfront District extends Wausau’s downtown core, connecting adjacent residential neighborhoods and providing a new opportunity for residents to experience the Wisconsin River. Becher-Hoppe Associates Inc. photo
One of the main goals of the development is to attract young business professionals and empty nesters to Wausau, which is located at the crossroad of two major transportation systems

Promoted as the next generation of the city's revitalized urban waterfront along the Wisconsin River, the groundbreaking East Riverfront Redevelopment project continues to unfold in Wausau. Years in the making, the high-profile, multi-million dollar construction effort includes an extensive river's edge trail system, miles of landscaped park amenities, extensive ramp and surface parking facilities and space for restaurants, entertainment, residential, commercial offices and mixed-use developments.

“The East Riverfront Redevelopment area started as a vision of reclaiming key waterfront parcels about 10 years ago, when the city began to acquire former industrial sites, old logging mills, warehouses and chemical facilities across approximately 16 acres of property just north of downtown,” said Christian Schock, director of planning, community and economic development of the city of Wausau. “The city created a Riverfront working group and hired Stantec, an international planning and engineering firm, to develop the master and market study for the area, which was first completed in 2014.”

The East Riverfront Redevelopment Plan and its implementation, Wausau Riverlife, is the most extensively mapped out project in Wausau's history. It has required more than 30 public meetings and forums, including open houses and a design charrette process led by the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee School of Planning. The project also has involved the political leadership of five sitting councils and three mayors.

Like many cities, Wausau's waterfront was a working community. As time passed, these areas became blighted and underused. This became unacceptable to city leaders.

“Wausau recognized that our urban waterfront along the Wisconsin River was one of our greatest assets and began the process of acquisition, environmental remediation and planning for the redevelopment of the area,” said Schock, who stressed the potential for creating more taxable value for the city, and providing a basis for future and sustainable urban growth.”

The East Riverfront District extends Wausau's downtown core, connecting adjacent residential neighborhoods and providing a new opportunity for residents to experience the Wisconsin River. One of the main goals of the development is to attract young business professionals and empty nesters to Wausau, which is located at the crossroad of two major transportation systems.

“The project is multidimensional,” said Schock. “The city has funded many of the public improvements roadway extensions, utilities, new riverfront trail, public wharf, overlooks and plazas with private donations and tax increment financing [TIF] funding.”

Schock also noted that the employment population in downtown Wausau has doubled over the past decade to just over 5,000 employees.

“That's large for a city our size, and driven by a couple key projects, including the First Wausau Tower, the tallest building in Wisconsin outside of Milwaukee, and major investments by firms such as United Healthcare/UMR, CGI Collaborative Consulting and Wipfli,” said Schock.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held in 2016, when the city and private donors completed the first phase of public amenities. This included an extension of River Drive, landscaping, lighting, extension of the River's Edge Trail, plazas and overlooks along the river's edge.

“The public construction on the project involved the construction of trail, river bank restoration and stabilization, public roadway and parking areas, daylighting of a creek and a new pedestrian bridge for the trail segment. The 80-foot-long steel pedestrian bridge structure was prefabricated offsite and arrived by trailer and lifted into place just before Christmas 2016.”

The project's first private investment, the 29,000 sq. ft. family entertainment, bar, grill and event space known as Wausau on the Water (WOW), opened in January 2017. The first apartment building, a 52-unit upscale rental building, will start construction later this year, and should open in spring 2019. The full buildout of 300 housing units — a mix of apartments, condos and retail/commercial office space — will be phased in over the next five years.

Schock said the location is ideal for potential residents, business owners and nature lovers. The environmental cleanup, however, was no small task, and required a tremendous amount of planning and hard work.

“The former industrial sites consisted of a variety of brownfield properties, which included the excavation and removal of contaminated soil and the replacement with clean fill and a managed cap system and vapor barrier. The city won United States EPA and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources grants to facilitate the environmental cleanup and restoration. The project would not have been possible without those programs,” Schock said.

Becher-Hoppe Associates Inc. is responsible for project oversight, and has coordinated construction activities, which have included the general contractor and its four subcontractors, Wisconsin Public service, the design engineer/architect, previous project personnel, Marathon County Parks Department and the city of Wausau. Kevin Bella, Becher-Hoppe civil engineering technician, said with so many players involved, it can sometimes be difficult to reach a conclusion that's consistent with a construction schedule. Maintaining site control is another obstacle.

“This site was cleaned up two projects previous to the one I'm currently working on,” Bella said. “As excavation takes place, I need to ensure that no materials are mixed with 'clean soil'.”

Keeping pedestrians off the property has been an issue, as well.

“As with all projects, everyone wants to be a spectator. The site was relatively open, so everyone had to be vigilant and watch out for onlookers,” Bella said.

Currently the project is approximately 70 percent complete, according to Bella. Beginning in May 2017, the contractor will be finishing up concrete approaches at five different trailhead locations, a large section of concrete trail, final asphaltic surface, landscaping, site electric and irrigation for the landscaping features.

“It's very rewarding to work on this project,” said Bella. “It's in the heart of Wausau's redevelopment area, and will be utilized by everyone. It's great to be part of something that hopefully becomes a focal point for the City of Wausau.”

Stantec and general contractor Miron Construction Company Inc. also are committed to transforming the area into a property all residents can enjoy. According to Aric Voigt, industrial project manager of Miron Construction, “The basic scope of Miron's responsibility is to rehabilitate the area down by the Wausau Riverfront, which used to have a feed mill on the site. We removed all of the trees and brush to clean up the embankments. Shoreline rip rap stone was then added to stabilize the shoreline with a new slope, so people can gradually walk down to the river.

“A wharf area was also added as a place to park boats and launch kayaks. The wharf area consists of high-end stone finishes all around, as well as an Adirondack area to place chairs and a fire pit. A pedestrian bridge was added to connect the walking trail from the south side of the water channel to the north area. Additionally, concrete sidewalks, landscaping, lighting and blacktop is being completed.

Voigt said weather has been a concern, due to the clay subsoils holding water, and explained that the work area for crews has been less than ideal.

“The location housed a contaminated feed mill many years ago, and the city spent the last few years cleaning up the site in order to install this new riverfront development,” said Voigt.

Miron has completed areas of concrete walls, stone work, flag poles and equipment installations. In December 2016, workers prepped and lifted a pedestrian bridge in place during sub-zero temperatures.

“The bridge was delivered the week before Christmas, and our crews worked through frigid temperatures to finish bolting all of the parts of the bridge together, so that our crane could set it in place before the temperature dropped any further, Voigt said.

“We used Miron's 350-ton mobile crane to lift the bridge off of the truck,” said Voigt. “We had to assemble the outlooks on the bridge, along with the decking and the railings. Things went very well. Our crew worked very hard in extremely cold weather to complete the project on time.”

Key tasks yet to be carried out include work related to the concrete sidewalks, paving, docks, irrigation, landscaping and some electrical activities.

“About 5,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil was removed. There was approximately 800 tons of shoreline stone placed and about 1,500 cubic yards of concrete poured. We have used excavation equipment, cranes and pile-driving machines. Materials being used include stone, sand, road base, topsoil, and concrete,” Voigt said.

Voigt also said it's rewarding to be involved in an effort that will have such a far-reaching impact.

“I was born and raised here in Wausau, so I want to make sure this project lasts for many years to come. We want to make sure the correct product is installed and that the city is happy with it long-term.”

The riverfront design called for an ADA, publicly-accessible boat and fishing wharf, a kayak launch, a multi-use trail system, riverbank restoration, landscaping amenities, and lighting and site furnishings. Eric Lembke, Stantec lead engineer and overall project manager for the site design aspect of the project, said the majority of the Riverfront project elements were completed in 2016.

“The final layer of asphalt on the trail, minor concrete work, along with final landscaping and restoration, still needs to occur. These items remaining in Miron's contract are being coordinated with the Park and Concessions building project, currently being designed. We are working with the city on the final design details, and will be bidding this next phase of the redevelopment project for 2017 construction,” said Lembke.

Richard Binder, who manages the environmental investigation, remediation, grant writing and procurement efforts for Stantec, said the work is a direct result of implementation of planning conducted by the city to enhance the downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.

“Stantec assisted in the most recent plan, East Riverfront Brownfields area-wide plan, which focused specifically on redevelopment of the project area. Subsurface environmental investigations and remedial planning was also performed from 2012-2014.

Among the project concerns were the buildings and old foundations on site, a failing, large-diameter storm sewer, limited public access and contamination issues, which have been resolved.

“All previous building foundations, utilities and pavement were removed and recycled in 2013 and 2014, the 96-inch diameter failing storm sewer was removed/demolished in 2014 and the sewer was restored to the previously navigable stream. Infrastructure improvements, including sewer, water, parking and extension of Riverside Drive, were also completed in anticipation of future development in the northern portion of the area,” said Binder.

As far as land constraints and infrastructure, Binder said on-site contamination, stormwater discharges to the Wisconsin River and lack of access via 1st Street and Riverside Drive had to be addressed.

Lack of public utilities, parking and Wisconsin River bank slope stability issues also had to be tackled.

Contaminated soil management related to stream daylighting, utility installation and bridge construction were conducted in late 2014.

“The surrounding area was dewatered, the stream was excavated and a geotextile liner was installed at the base of the stream to minimize contact with any residual contamination,” said Binder. “The 96-inch failing storm sewer was then demolished and taken off site to a concrete recycle center. A bridge was constructed over the newly-restored stream, and waterfall/water circulation electrical and piping components were installed. A clean soil and topsoil cover was placed across unpaved areas to further prevent contact with residual contamination in deeper soil.”

Stantec helped officials obtain more than $2.5 million in federal and state funding to remediate and redevelop the 16 acres of vacant and contaminated riverfront parcels.

“Stantec met with the city early on to identify potential funding sources, application deadlines and other timing related to the overall project. Our grant team provided support to the city to procure federal, state and county brownfield grants. The city further secured donations, tax incremental financing and other funding,” said Binder.

Regarding environmental investigation, the properties were previous industrial sites with over a century of various operations.

“Limited investigations and remedial activities were performed by previous owners in the past. When the city acquired the properties, the site investigations were supplemented to address the proposed future non-industrial uses, which have more strict cleanup standards than the previous industrial uses,” said Binder.

With its low-lying location adjacent to the Wisconsin River, the entire property contained approximately six to eight feet of historic fill materials of varying consistency and quality.

“The fill included fine to medium sand with cinders, ash, foundry sand, gravel and brick fragments, potentially attributable to adjacent foundry and other industrial activities. The fill generally contained contaminants at concentrations above State non-industrial standards. Localized areas of contamination related to surface spills of solvents and petroleum hot spots were also present,” said Binder.

“Specific environmental concerns for the site included contaminated soils, which represented a direct contact exposure risk, as well as a potential source of contamination for stormwater runoff entering the Wisconsin River. As such, special handling of soil and precautions was required as part of redevelopment.”

Site cleanup included removal of old building foundations and utilities and removal of contaminated hot spot areas where spills of solvents and petroleum occurred. The entire property includes a clean cover system consisting of a minimum of 18 inches of clean soil, rip rap, pavement and buildings to maintain a barrier from residual contamination in the underlying fill. Any future construction activities will include proper management of underlying materials, if the cover is penetrated.

Binder said, “This work would not occur except for the vision, planning and diligence of the city and their willingness to move forward with high quality projects. Most important, the efforts have resulted in private investment and increased tax base, jobs, greenspace, and revitalization of the area. The city is also moving forward with residential infill and adaptive reuse of several former manufacturing buildings adjacent to the site.”

Significant private development is scheduled to occur during the next half-decade at the site.

“Redevelopment proposals are accepted, and approximately $80 million in mixed use redevelopment, which includes redevelopment of several vacant residential lots, is under way,” said Binder. “The WOW project is the first of several buildings being developed over the next five years. The development will include an estimated 105,000 square feet of office space, 30,000 square feet of retail space, 30,000 square feet of restaurant space and 319,000 square feet of residential space.”

The projects are expected to create roughly 250 permanent full-time jobs, and approximately $1.6 million per year in additional property tax revenue.—CEG

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