Friday, October 19, 2018

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Milwaukee firm eyes land to bring West Coast housing trend to Eau Claire's Cannery District

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    The Cannery District along Oxford Avenue in Eau Claire on July 28, 2016.

    Staff file photo by Dan Reiland

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    File photo

A Milwaukee firm will pitch a new style of housing for part of a riverfront redevelopment area in Eau Claire.

WiRED Properties is scheduled to appear at Wednesday morning’s Redevelopment Authority meeting to seek a 90-day exclusive right to reach a purchase and development agreement for about 2 vacant acres in the Cannery Redevelopment District, located on the city’s lower west side near the Chippewa River and north of Madison Street.

That land — the 2300 block of First Avenue — is known informally as the “hockey bowl” because it had been the site of an outdoor ice rink years ago. The property that has been vacant for a while recently switched ownership from the city to the RDA.

Mike Schatz, the city’s economic development administrator, said WiRED’s proposal is to create a “pocket neighborhood” — a housing concept that originated on the West Coast.

They are groups of single-family houses, usually eight to 12, that are clustered around a common space such as a courtyard or shared garden, according to The idea is to help foster community because neighbors there have front porches facing the center common space and would naturally get to know each other better. Even with the idea of being more neighborly, the homes still maintain privacy by having their own yards and are oriented on their lots so windows of one home don’t look into the one next door.

Whidbey Island, Wash.. architect Ross Chapin is credited with coining the term “pocket neighborhoods.” He wrote a book about the concept and owns the website.

The RDA’s vision for the Cannery District is a mixed-use area with parkland along the riverfront, a diverse selection of housing and some commercial development — similar to other recently redeveloped parts of downtown Eau Claire.

The RDA is in the process of buying the remaining parcels of land for the district from current owners.

On Wednesday morning, the group will vote on buying about 2.8 acres of vacant land from Cigan Properties. That property is south of Maple Street on the west side of Oxford Avenue.

The RDA has spent years buying up land in the riverfront area and now has just a few business buildings and a couple of duplexes left to acquire.

“We’re still hoping a couple of those could be acquired this year and the rest next year,” Schatz said.

Some existing businesses in the area are staying put, namely Eau Claire Children’s Theatre, Kwik Trip and Family Video.

Though the RDA is making deals to pave the way for new buildings in the Cannery District, the only construction activity expected this year is a major remodeling project. The Brewing Projekt has been thoroughly revamping an old riverfront building at 2000 N. Oxford Ave. to replace its small brewery and tasting room nearby.

Paved recreational trails were added last year to the riverbank in the Cannery District, linking the High Bridge to the sidewalk along West Madison Street.

As old structures have been cleared away in the Cannery District and its potential becomes easier to see, Schatz said, the redevelopment area is gaining increasing attention.

“We have more and more interest, people contacting us all the time,” he said.

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