A team of community development experts from across Wisconsin spent two and a half days in Kewaunee this week creating a vision of the city’s waterfront that they presented to generally favorable reviews from the public Thursday evening.
The group presented concepts and design ideas for six different areas of the waterfront area during a community meeting at Kewaunee Elementary School.
The ideas built on work that has already been done, from the reconstruction of the seawall along Harbor Park to the establishment of Lakehaven Hall, the former Hamacheck Hall building at the end of Ellis Street that has been converted into a community center.
Claire Thompson, community development educator for the University of Wisconsin-Extension Kewaunee County office, told a group of several dozen people that a community survey seeking ideas for priorities got “amazing” results.
She and Jennifer Brown, executive director of the Kewaunee County Economic Development Corp., served as co-facilitators for the mayor-appointed local committee that is working on an update of the city’s waterfront plan. The goal is to have an initial draft of that update to the city by the end of this month, Thompson said.
The design team that visited this week was comprised of community development educators from UW-Extension offices around the state with expertise in community vitality and “placemaking,” a process designed to take advantage of a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential as it develops shared public spaces.
Kristin Runge from the UW-Extension Center for Community and Economic Development said the key to determining a community’s identity is to listen, because there’s no way an outside group can figure that out in a short visit. That was the purpose of the survey, which has garnered responses from close to 500 adult community members since it was launched online just before Christmas.
“That was a phenomenol response in a short period of time during a holiday season,” Runge said.
A companion survey of students in grades 7-12 received 376 responses.
“The majority of those students took the survey within 48 hours of getting the link,” she said. “They were eager and excited, judging from the length of time it took to fill out those surveys, to share their ideas.”
One thing they found is that the “new” Kewaunee story should be the Kewaunee story the community has been telling all along, Runge said.
“This is one of the last authentic lakeshore towns along Lake Michigan … You’re a community that is connected to the lake, that has this love of fishing and outdoor recreation and spending time with one another and people from other communities and friends and family,” she said. “It’s a fishing heritage, it’s a water heritage, it’s a heritage very much connected to that lake.”
The visitors spent all day Thursday roughing out designs to try to articulate that story, based on the survey results and a two-hour “vision sketch workshop” with the waterfront committee Wednesday evening, said Angie Allen of the UW-Extension Milwaukee office.
The committee was asked focused questions about waterfront uses, the habor, other areas of revitalization and what could promote long-term vitality for the area, Allen said.
A centerpiece of the effort is the east end of Ellis Street, redubbed “Ellis Point” by the design team and built around Lakehaven Hall and the remaining former industrial buildings near the water.
“What we want to suggest doing is stop tearing down the buildings,” said Todd Johnson of the UW-River Falls Extension, who showed an area that makes use of Lakehaven, part of the municipal well building, and a little yellow house that he said could become an identifying landmark for the city.
Other features include short-term housing for visitors and converting the very end of Ellis Street into a pedestrian mall linking the older structures. Based on the survey results that generated a lot of interest in a movie theater, the design team proposed an amphitheater in the Ellis Point area that could show films during the summer.
The teens’ interest in a McDonald’s or Culver’s was addressed in a proposed diner as part of Fisherman’s Point, an area across the water from Harbor Park.
The survey indicated “it wasn’t McDonald’s they really wanted,” Madison landscape architect Ed Freer said. “It was a cool place to hang out with their friends and have a cheeseburger.”
In the early phases of addressing the design plan, Runge proposed low-cost social media marketing of the area, which can reach all ages, and leveraging the community’s growing reputation as a wedding destination – pointing out that Lakehaven Hall is booked for weddings two years in advance.
Will Cronin of UW-Extension in Crawford County said a key to making the plans a reality is to generate excitement and a sense of urgency.
“This is an amazing community, and it’s up to you to build the Kewaunee you want,” Cronin said. “Small steps are great, but you gotta keep walking.”
Videos of Thursday night’s presentation are expected to be posted on the city website and YouTube within a few days.