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The River’s Bend: Mandel’s Housing Development Plan for Humboldt Yards

by Vince Bushell

I sat on the edge of one of the remaining piers of the North Avenue dam and watched the water rush below and through the gap. Sea gulls squawked above me as fishermen lazily cast their lines into the river from Caesar’s Park on the east bank. Looking upstream, in the foreground of the graceful arches of the North Avenue Bridge, I see the river drops in elevation and a small rapids throws the water up into white froth. I notice a tall dark solitary figure against the tall grass on the bank near the rapids. Without perceptible movement the figure has moved into the water by the rapids. A Great Blue Heron has chosen to fish here, as well. Future Bridge SiteThis is the river below Humboldt Yards. A housing development is being proposed for the nearby bluff and slopes of the Humboldt Yards. When Mandel Group bought the semi circle of grass and hill that is riverward of the extension of Commerce Street that curves through Humboldt Yards (originally a railroad yard) over a year ago from Jewel-Osco (JO), the land was already zoned for residential development. JO’s original plan called for the building of 96 multi-family housing units on the land. Bob Monnat, representing the Mandel Group, says the development plan substantially reduces the number of units proposed. Sixty-five condominiums are proposed with different site treatment below and above the dam. Following the westward curve downstream of the dam, six separate buildings have been planned comprising a total of 40 units. Plazas separate the buildings and allow for garage access at the top of the bluff. Garage access for some of the units will be along Riverboat Road at the bottom of the bluff. The buildings will be built into the bluff and have river views. These units will be adjacent to and above the existing homes and Melenec’s Wheelhouse along Riverboat Road. Selling prices are expected to be between 300 and 400 thousand dollars. The entire development goes by the name of RiverCrest, which at least rhymes with Riverwest. At the dam, Monnat says they plan on a green space and public access up and down the slope probably via stairs. An interesting addition to this site plan is the possible link to a pedestrian bridge over the dam linking Caesar’s Park, a Milwaukee County Park, to the trails planned up and down the river on the west bank. The bridge would be built with city dollars derived from the Tax Incremental Finance (TIF) district that includes the entire Commerce Street Beer Line development area. TIF dollars come from the property taxes on the developments and are dedicated to paying off infrastructure costs of the development. Meetings with interested residents and city and county officials are being held to discuss this bridge project. The River Revitalization Foundation (RRF) had planned a bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava for an area near the dam, but it has decided this concept is a better fit and is willing to support the chosen architect to design the bridge at the dam. Monnat also indicated that Mandel Group is sensitive to the treatment of the land upstream of the dam and is interested in citizen input on their development plans. Mandel’s plans include two more buildings northward of the green space at the dam as well as an additional green space at North Avenue. A larger three-story building would be built along Commerce Street with 22 units. These units would be less expensive but still well over $100,000. Many homes in Riverwest are also selling in that range now, as property values have risen rapidly. Riverward of this building would be several coach houses set into the slope. The green space at North Avenue is interesting in that it could be a entry point to the River Valley if plans included connections to the bicycle and hiking trail. The trail will pass under the North Avenue bridge and link to Gordon Park as well as along Riverboat Road and Commerce Street. If Riverwest residents participate in the process, they could insure that the developments along the River help bring about the opportunity to build a pedestrian and bicycle-friendly transportation system serving Riverwest, the Lower East Side, Brady Street, and Downtown. Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 7 – August 2002
Future Bridge Site