Planners draw development insight from kids

Lincoln Middle Schoolers present plans for Riverside North site in La Crosse

The city of La Crosse is organizing the development of a large site in downtown La Crosse, and Thursday planners looked to local middle schoolers for some insight.

Riverside North, also known as the former Mobil Oil site, has 35 acres of developable land off of Copeland Avenue, which city planners say is a huge opportunity in an urban setting.

Now, as city planners are narrowing down which firms will develop the area, they heard from Lincoln Middle School seventh graders about what they’d like to see on the site.

The students’ designs were part of an urban planning curriculum, and city and county planners visited them in class to help out and select the top four plans, which were presented Thursday.

“These groups are just like four students, and all of them were challenged by how to fill up this space,” associate planner with the city of La Crosse, Lewis Kuhlman, said.

“We disagreed a lot, but then we came up with this and we were all happy with it,” seventh grader Kylee Zeeb said.

That spirit of teamwork is something city planners say will have to carry over into the actual Riverside North plans.

“We, as a department, have been interviewing different developers interested, so right now, the redevelopment authority is getting more specific on how these different developers could work together to potentially to come up with a broad creation,” Kuhlman said.

Right now, 15 developers have shown interest, and the city is starting to interview some of the firms.

“I think the developer interest is indicative of how excited the development community is, too, and how they see downtown La Crosse as a very appealing place to invest these days,” Jason Gilman, director of planning development, said.

While not all of the kids’ ideas will make it into the final plans, planners had plenty to take back with them to the drawing board.

“We get to see a lot of imagination and creativity, so we try to carry it on that sort of interest and creativity into the actual development work we do,” Kuhlman said.

The city will make their final choices on developers next year, then groundbreaking on the site is set the spring of 2018.

Gilman said the site will likely be mostly residential, with a mix of commercial space as well.