As a traditional paper mill town situated on an active river that gave birth to the city’s existence and industry, the City of Wisconsin Rapids features a unique combination of industrial heritage, major river infrastructure, and riparian ecologies while facing the familiar challenge of a company town: singular dependency on a declining economy and a threatened community.
To address these complex issues, the design and planning framework looks beyond typical landscape treatments in the form of “riverfront beautification.” The landscape architect and project team worked closely with various stakeholders ranging from the mayor to the local foundations to the chamber of commerce to seek strategies to revitalize the community, attract new businesses, and realign the riverfront public realm with cross-generational appeal for an aging and diversifying population. To gain support from the broader public, the project team also went beyond the typical gym floor community meetings and organized a series of fun and unique public engagement events on-site and around the city. These included a public open house at the local “Lunch by the River” event, an outdoor movie style “Presentation Under the Stars” on the riverbank, and an interactive walk-around “Nig htSeeing” event to experience the nighttime environment and lighting.
The impact of the proposed plan was felt beyond the boundary of the riverfront. It helped the city gamer the attention and support of statewide organizations, politicians, and state government, among others. The Wisconsin Downtown Action Council held its annual meeting in Wisconsin Rapids; the city received a significant grant from the Wisconsin DNR to implement the first phase of the plan; and Wisconsin US Senator Tammy Baldwin, who is spearheading the Waterfront Community Revitalization and Resiliency Act in Congress, visited the city and toured the riverfront with the mayor.