ONALASKA — The Great River Landing has brought more people to play in Onalaska’s historic downtown core since it opened in August 2017. And it looks like it’s poised to bring a lot more people to live there, too, with a $16.4 million residential and retail project on the horizon.
The recreational amenities offered by the Great River Landing and other projects it helped spur — including Dash-Park and David Reay’s Modern Diner across the street — were a big part of the reason Marvin Wanders of Three Sixty Real Estate Solutions has come to the city with a proposal for 98 residential units called Great River Residences.
“The Great River Landing was the kickoff catalyst that really has created a sense of place in the neighborhood. If they don’t do that project, this doesn’t happen,” Wanders said of his project, which also includes a separate building with 3,000 square feet of commercial space. “We think it’s really unique that you’re that connected to natural resources, plus the fact that you’re part of this vibrant hub in that neighborhood.”
The project came before the city’s Plan Commission Subcommittee on Tuesday, and the general development plan is set for a public hearing Nov. 27 before the Plan Commission.
Wanders wants to build the project on city-owned land south of the Great River Landing, property where the old city shop sits and the Braund Lumber building used to be. The project footprint falls in the 200, 300 and 400 blocks of Court Street. Under the proposal, the city would clear the land and sell the property to Three Sixty.
The land is predominantly fill that is not good for building on, with some residual contamination from the city shop. The existing soil will have to be removed and new soil brought in, and Wanders estimated site preparation work will cost as much as $1.7 million.
“Things were dumped in there and weren’t compacted to standards you’d need for a building that size,” said City Engineer Jarrod Holter. Some of the fill is sawdust from a former icehouse operation.
The project faces other challenges. The buildings would be practically next to the Irvin Street railroad crossing, and there’s another crossing to the south. The city is likely to spend the money to get a “quiet zone” designation for the north crossings, City Administrator Eric Rindfleisch said.
The project also would require removal of existing water, sanitary sewer and storm sewer lines, and a lift station, along with construction of new utilities as well as relocation of gas and electric lines. Wanders said he has been talking with Xcel Energy about getting the electrical substation moved, which is not on the Great River Residences property but would obstruct the view.
Wanders is seeking help on the project through the city’s “pay-as-you-go” tax-increment financing district. With this TIF district, Three Sixty would pay all the upfront money for site preparation and utilities but would be reimbursed for eligible costs. The reimbursement would come from the increase in the property value that comes with improvement — the increment. Normally, municipalities pay certain expenses up front to encourage development and then get paid back from the increment, but this pay-as-you-go method puts all the risk on the developer, Wanders said.
It has not yet been determined which costs Three Sixty would be reimbursed for, but Wanders and the city wold work out a development agreement covering purchase price, costs eligible for a TIF district to be established and many other factors.
The project will include four buildings, the largest of which would be a four-story building with 60 one- and two-bedroom apartments and one level of underground parking for 41 cars, along with additional surface parking. There also would be two townhome-style buildings with attached garages, one with 21 units and one with 12 units, both having a mixture of one-, two- and three-bedroom designs.
These three buildings would have an exterior look that evokes row houses. “If we can create a home feeling with a little bit of modern flair, it’ll be a project that will fit in very well in the neighborhood,” Wanders said.
The fourth building would be a two-story mixed-use building on the north part of the site, with five studio apartments above 3,000 square feet of commercial space with drive-thru capacity, which Wanders pictures being home to a coffee shop, deli or wood-fired pizza place.
“We’re going to really look to find things that are very complementary to the other businesses downtown and fill gaps that might be missing,” Wanders said. “We think that makes a stronger core.”
Strengthening urban core neighborhoods is a big part of Three Sixty’s mission, Wanders said. The company’s two most recent projects have included The Canterbury on Campbell Road in La Crosse and The Hub, the project that converted the former La Crosse County Administrative Center into apartments.
At its meeting after the subcommittee meeting, the Onalaska Common Council approved an agreement to apply for a $250,000 Community Development Investment Grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation on behalf of Three Sixty Real Estate Solutions.
Wanders hopes to start construction next April with completion projected for June 1, 2020.