Workforce, senior housing key desires expressed at first Blackhawk Junction redevelopment meeting

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Also suggested: Inventive, service-focused businesses and neighborhood hub with greenspace

By Correne Martin

 

“We’re at least a year and a half from getting shovels in the ground,” stated Economic Analyst Dan Johns, representing the city of Prairie du Chien’s planning consultant, at the Blackhawk Junction redevelopment public visioning session Monday night at city hall. 

Over 30 citizens, business owners and city administration gathered for a presentation by Vandewalle & Associates regarding the nine-acre property that Crawford County took title of last year due to tax delinquency and the city Redevelopment Authority then purchased Dec. 31. Those attending also spent time in small groups considering and debating specific business, residential and public possibilities. 

No concrete solutions were promised by the Madison-based company, which the city contracted upon receiving DNR grant funding to assist with brownfield/blighted redevelopment. 

Another public open house will be held in the coming months to obtain feedback on chosen concepts before finalization. It was also noted that the land is being remediated and readied to sell to potential developers who will eventually plan the project as they see fit. 

“The city is in a better position than the private sector to make redevelopment happen,” Johns said. “Rather than put a ‘for sale’ sign in the yard and hope the right developer might come along, the city wanted to help direct this project and see it be successful.” 

The most common themes that materialized from opinions at the meeting were the desires to see:

•A mix of upscale workforce and senior housing;

•Personal and professional service-focused businesses that would offer a fresh take to clients at reasonable prices;

•Retail, grocery and restaurants providing boutique, grass-roots, inventive, organic and locally-sourced products and experiences, that also appeal to various age groups and emphasize customer service;

•Job generation and attention to community workforce needs;

•Ecotourism;

•A location of transportation options, such as a trolley or small buses, interconnecting residents and tourists among Prairie du Chien and possibly Marquette and McGregor; 

•Streetscaping, tieing in stormwater issues;

•A modern, eye-catching site design unique from other areas of the city, yet with an efficient flow in and out that connects it to the downtown and the Highway 18/35 corridor;

•A neighborhood hub including green space, a park-like setting, and a place for families to spend time;

•A mixed-use plaza where people can live, work, shop and recreate and that could increase the tax base.

Johns and his colleague toured the Blackhawk Junction building that formerly housed Nelson True Value on Monday and said, “It looks like it’s not going to be salvageable.” 

They also spoke with the current tenant businesses, which occupy the commercial space on the northwest portion of the site. All expressed interest in staying there and working with Vandewalle & Associates and the city as they facilitate redevelopment.

Johns said, though the site is considered contaminated, due to a previous dry cleaners there, that issue will be remediated and his company does not expect it to affect development. 

Presently, Vandewalle & Associates and the city are about a third of the way through the process of effecting action at Blackhawk Junction, and that includes the remediation as well as planning, grant seeking, etc., according to Johns.

During his presentation about the potential for this site and the city, Johns described Prairie du Chien as a blue-collar community with a population growth that’s a little less than the state overall, a median age that’s slightly higher, and education levels that are lower than the state average. He pointed out the trend that retail shopping has taken, dropping sharply, along with the rise of e-commerce. 

Statewide, “hardware, clothing, books and other soft lines are struggling,” he said, adding that service-based opportunities like nail salons, yoga studios and interior design houses are doing well. 

“Prairie is a net importer of workers. There are 1,700 more people who drive in than leave each day,” Johns remarked. “We’re hearing from employers, they want more housing.”

He also emphasized the positive location of this site, considering 4,400 vehicles pass by on Highway 27 per day, and over 9,000 vehicles cross the bridge from Iowa into town daily. With the fire and water departments housed adjacent to the plaza, that also benefits redevelopment.  

Anyone unable to attend the meeting, but who still wishes for their opinions to be recorded on future proposals, is asked to contact city hall at 326-6406. 

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