Redevelopment plans arise for St. Feriole site

construction work
Prairie du Chien public works employees work to remove the fence on the Northern Engraving property on St. Feriole Island recently.
The above rendering of the former Northern Engraving - National Decorated Metals property, with proposed future additions, was provided by Kyle Shauf, of HSR Associates. The city of Prairie du Chien and the redevelopment committee for the site are hopeful this and other drawings can serve as a blueprint for repurposing the former industrial site on St. Feriole Island for green space, recreational and environmental uses.

By Correne Martin

Major redevelopment of the former Northern Engraving-National Decorated Metals property on St. Feriole Island is in the plans for the future in Prairie du Chien. By the year 2020, the public could see a bandshell and performing arts complex, an urban forest and outdoor classroom, improvements to the Villa Louis boat landing, a dog park, a splash park with a patio and pavilion, an overlook, historical storyboards and more.

“This is probably a 10-year process and it could cost about $1.3 million to do everything proposed,” City Administrator Aaron Kramer said. “The finished project may not be exactly what we’re proposing today.”

According to City Planner Garth Frable, much of the redevelopment depends upon grants acquired, organizations that might step forward to take on specific projects and what opportunities donors would like to see there.

The city purchased the former Northern Engraving site in 2011 for $10, with the intent of maximizing its potential usage for the public.

The property borders the Mississippi River on the west and north, North Villa Louis Road on the east and North Water Street on the south. The actual area is 7.49 acres, but the committee has incorporated the area to the west of the railroad corridor, as well as some properties adjacent to the site in its recommendations. The addition of those pieces of land brings the entire site to 10.4 acres.

The land was used by the metal-working operation until 1964. The major flood of 1965 led the operation to move its company to another city. The buildings were razed around 1999, and the property has sat vacant since. All that remains of the former industrial operation are the concrete floor slabs and foundations, which will be used in the proposed redevelopment.

A Northern Engraving Redevelopment Committee has formed to focus on repurposing the property for green space, recreational and environmental uses. The committee consists of Chairman Terry Meyer, Norb Aschom, Michael Douglass, Tarah Marx and Kyle Kozelka. The committee proposed short-term (2013-2016) and long-term (2014-2020) projects, which were recently approved by the common council.

In addition to the lofty recreational plans for the site, contamination issues would be resolved with the proposed redevelopment. Frable said the kinds of contaminants at the site, located in the soil, are only worrisome if exposure is direct. A remedial action plan will be developed to include a lot of cleanup, landscaping, and capping of the contaminants—with additional soil and construction of facilities, such as the bandshell.

Some of the ideas for redevelopment of the site are incorporated from the St. Feriole Island Reuse Plan and the 2009 City of Prairie du Chien Waterfront Plan.

“We know some of the proposals are going to require considerable funds,” Kramer stated, explaining that some monies will come from the city’s general and capital funds. “There will also be opportunities for naming rights and for civic club projects. We’re hopeful that we can recognize the Fourth Ward and its residents and chronicle some of the rich history of the island. We believe this is an opportunity to create something great as a tribute to former residents, for the residents of today and tomorrow, and for those who visit Prairie du Chien.”

Short-term plans
• In recent weeks, city staff removed the fence around the south and east perimeters of the site. The barbed wire will be recycled, while the remainder of the fence will be relocated to the current radio station property for the possible construction of a pet park in 2014 (once the radio station is razed). “I am not sure we will get the permission we need from state and federal authorities to do this,” said Kramer. “Our goal is still to find a parcel of land to create a dog park somewhere in the city in the future.” Fence will remain on the west side of the property to provide a buffer from the railroad tracks, and greenery could also be added to the fence to soften its appearance.

• By next spring, the public will see the creation of a temporary parking lot in the southwest corner of the property to be used by Villa Louis boat landing patrons as well as for special event parking. Upgrades to the boat landing would take place in three to five years and a permanent parking area would be constructed at that time. Funds for the project are recommended to come from the city’s boat launch fund, due to its projected use, and city staff would do the majority of the work.

• The northern area of the site is recommended to be converted into an urban forest educational area in 2014, as part of a cooperative effort with the Prairie du Chien Area School District. A walking path from the forest to the river would allow for additional educational exposure to water sciences and biology. Walking paths and park benches would be added to encourage general public usage. The city and school district, along with volunteers, would work together to acquire grants, plant trees and maintain the forest.

• The city would like to adopt an official name for the park in 2014 and potentially host a contest to accept public nominations.

Long-term proposals
• An outdoor bandshell and performing arts complex is proposed for the center of the former Northern Engraving site. This area would incorporate the existing foundations of the industrial plant into the bandshell and seating area, reducing any potential for environmental remediation and removal. The bandshell would be constructed with allowance for water to move through it when the Mississipppi River reaches flood stage and it would be compatible with state and federal floodplain regulations.

• A splash park with a pavilion and patio is recommended for the southwest section of the site. Such an attraction, which would also be flood-resistant, would target young children and families and be used mainly in the summer. The pavilion and patio, with benches and tables, would provide an area for relaxation and enjoyment. This proposal would also utilize the existing industrial foundations, further reducing any environmental liabilities.

• An overlook is suggested as another functional way to use some of the existing industrial foundations to provide a unique and memorable view of the river from the park. It is not certain whether the overlook could be extended over the railroad however.

• A main gate is proposed for the southeast corner of the property, due to its proximity to Villa Louis Road, the parking lot and the historic site itself. A preliminary architectural drawing has incorporated into the design the old suspension bridge that connected Prairie du Chien to its Iowa neighbors.

• Plans are for the main entrance to also display four durable kiosks with pictures and narratives honoring and recalling four historical eras of St. Feriole Island. The city would work with local historians to develop the kiosks:

1) The Native American presence on the island.

2) The Fur Trade Era and initial settlement of the island, including the War of 1812.

3) The Fourth Ward and the people who called the island home until their relocations following the 1965 flood.

4) The industrial history of the island to remind patrons that the site, and other areas of the island, were once a thriving, industrial region that helped build Prairie du Chien.

For more information about plans for the former Northern Engraving site, or to discuss donations or civic group projects for the property, contact City Hall at 326-6406.

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