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Home Home decor Menomonee Valley RiverWalk to bring a natural feel, room for bikes

Menomonee Valley RiverWalk to bring a natural feel, room for bikes

The Menomonee Valley RiverWalk will include groves of trees, natural grass plantings and room for bikes. (Photo: HGA Architects)

Milwaukee’s RiverWalk carries a distinctly urban vibe — which makes sense for a path that connects the east side to the harbor, running through downtown and the Historic Third Ward.

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But don’t expect that same experience when the RiverWalk is extended into the Menomonee Valley.

That paved trail, running along the Menomonee River, will be a lot different — bringing a more natural feel and a much wider path so bikes can use it.

Construction of the first phases could begin next year. The extension plans were announced in 2017.

The valley RiverWalk is expected to eventually run about 2 miles from the confluence of the Milwaukee and Menomonee rivers, near North Water and West Seeboth streets, past such venues as the Harley-Davidson Museum and City Lights Brewing Co., to Three Bridges Park, beneath the South 27th Street viaduct.

It will connect with the RiverWalk along the Milwaukee River, which runs roughly 3 miles between the East North Avenue bridge and the harbor. It also will connect, and sometimes overlap, with the nearby Hank Aaron State Trail.

The valley RiverWalk won’t have the same types of commercial development, such as apartments, condos and office towers, found along the Milwaukee River.

“It’s going to be far less dense,” said Alyssa Remington, who oversees RiverWalk projects for the Department of City Development.

That’s partly due to the fact that zoning for the Menomonee Valley encourages a mix of light industrial, office and retail use — but not housing.

Also, the properties along the Menomonee River tend to be larger, less developed parcels than those downtown and in the Historic Third Ward.

“Things are pretty far apart. And a lot less walkable,” said Corey Zetts, executive director of Menomonee Valley Partners Inc., which leads valley redevelopment work.

The result will be a RiverWalk that’s 12 to 15 feet wide, compared with the 8-foot width along the downtown RiverWalk.

“It’s a mixed-use trail where both bicycles and pedestrians can co-exist,” said Greg Patin, a city planning and development manager.

Native grasses, trees planned

Also, the valley RiverWalk will have a different character.

City planners, working with HGA Architects, created design standards that feature an homage to the Menomonee Valley’s natural conditions when indigenous people lived there.

Those standards call for native grasses and wildflowers planted along the banks — recalling the wetlands of grass, reeds and wild rice that once marked the valley.

Those grasses, planted between the RiverWalk and the Menomonee River, will generally be dense enough to avoid having to build expensive safety railings, according to the design standards proposal.

Native grasses planted on both sides of the RiverWalk will give walkers and bikers the sense of moving through a marsh grassland landscape, it said.

At the same time, the grasses will be short enough to not block views of the river.

Those plantings also will help soak up stormwater runoff — something that’s needed as vacant parcels are developed, Zetts said.

The grasses along the Menomonee Valley RiverWalk will help soak up stormwater as nearby sites are developed. (Photo: HGA Architects)

The RiverWalk’s other main natural element will be groves of birches and other native Wisconsin shade trees.

Groves of around a dozen trees will be planted every 300 to 600 feet along the trail, Patin said. That will help prevent a monotonous experience on the RiverWalk, he said.

The trees will help mark paths that connect the RiverWalk to nearby streets. That includes new roads that will be built to make vacant sites accessible for development.

The groves also will feature benches, lights for evening use and other amenities.

A small number of RiverWalk sections, where existing buildings meet the water’s edge, likely won’t have room for native grasses and trees, Remington said. 

That includes the massive U.S. Postal Service mail processing facility, 341 W. St. Paul Ave., which Chicago developer Matt Garrison hopes to eventually convert into stores, restaurants and offices.

Garrison called the valley RiverWalk “a great idea,” which will connect people to the Menomonee River and promote commercial development.

“Milwaukee has been progressive in this stuff for 25 years, and this is a natural extension of that,” Garrison said. 

Aside from exceptions like the Postal Service site, the valley RiverWalk will be “less of a sidewalk and more of a trail,” Remington said.

Expansion possible 

Valley RiverWalk funding will use the same formula as the downtown RiverWalk.

The city will pay for 70 percent of a RiverWalk segment, with the private landowner covering the rest. Property taxes from new development along the RiverWalk will pay back the city funds.      

That funding formula means that valley RiverWalk segments won’t be built until private development occurs, Remington said.

Those construction phases, which could occur over several years, are expected to begin in 2020, she said.

The RiverWalk design standards were recently approved by the Plan Commission, and will be reviewed Monday by the Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee.

The RiverWalk is among a series of newer projects within the Menomonee Valley, which runs from downtown to Miller Park.

They include a possible expansion of the Menomonee Valley Industrial Center.

That industrial park, which hosts 10 businesses with 1,400 employees, is now full with the 2018 sale of its last two parcels. 

A likely spot for the business park’s expansion is the 15-acre Kneeland Properties, owned by the city and state. That site is between West Mt. Vernon Avenue and the Menomonee River, east of Standard Electric Supply Co., 222 N. Emmber Lane.

Also, the valley’s home decor district, on West St. Paul Avenue, is adding such businesses as Bachman Furniture Gallery and The Warehouse art gallery.

Meanwhile, Potawatomi Hotel and Casino’s second 19-story, 119-room tower is to be completed in July. That $80 million project will give the hotel, 1721 W, Canal St., 500 rooms, as well as a spa and additional meeting space.

Tom Daykin can be emailed at [email protected] and followed on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.


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