July 21, 2008

River Walk planned for Downtown Racine

A conceptual drawing of the river looking downstream from 6th Street. UW-Milwaukee Community Design Solutions student Anna Grosch created the drawing.

A few months back I wrote a story for Wisconsin Builder Magazine about Baraboo's plans to reclaim the Baraboo River as a source of economic development. In talking with river experts, Racine kept coming up as another city that was doing interesting things with its river. I'd heard a little about the city's plans to develop along the Root River, but thought it was more Mayor Becker's dream than actual progress.

The dream may be more real than I thought. The Root River Council and River Alliance of Wisconsin presented a fully formed plan (click here to read it) to convert Racine's Root River from an after-thought into a jewel of economic and environmental development.

The key to the proposal (in my opinion) is a river walk along the south side of the river from the 6th Street Bridge to the Main Street bridge. It would be no more than 15-feet wide and lined with native plants. It'd also create public access along the river, which now seems exclusive to the yacht clubs, and connects nine city parks, two county parks, two golf courses and neighborhoods.
Proposed banners for the retaining wall beneath Water Street in Downtown Racine. Rendering by Ann Grosch.

For development, waterfront properties are hot (that's why Wisconsin Builder was interested in Baraboo's plans). People are paying premiums for business, condos and homes with access to water, and Racine would benefit if it can replace the old industrial buildings on the Root with newer developments. Yeah, the development will go to people with money. But the plan makes four specific recommendations for making the river more accessible to the public. They include:

* Provide access points for public fishing, boating, and viewing the river
* Draw people to the river by placing signs directing them to recreational opportunities along the river
* Move the Mound Avenue section of the Root River Pathway off the street between 6th and Marquette Streets
* Improve the Water Street retaining wall by placing public art over the wall
* Connect the river walk to downtown by improving the 4th Street stairs and adding matching access on the park

It's hard to say how much, if any, of this can get built. Organizers are moving forward with a public listening session on July 29. Here's the details:

You can help make Back to the Root: An Urban River Revitalization Plan a reality

By attending the next Root River Conversations on Tuesday July 29 you will learn about several opportunities for you to take action to improve the Root River in Racine.

Back to the Root: An Urban River Revitalization Plan is a vision for the Root River that was created by the Root River Council based on more than a year’s worth of public input. The plan lays out recommendations to bring a positive focus back to the Root River within the City of Racine. It is available for download at www.backtotheroot.org

What: Root River Conversations
When: Tuesday July 29, 6-8 pm
Where: Root River Environmental Education and Community Center (REC), 1301 6th Street

Here are the volunteers who helped put the plan together:
  • Chris Flynn, owner of DP Wigley
  • Susan Greenfield, executive director of the Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network
  • Reva Holmes, board member of the Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network
  • Rep. Cory Mason, a board member of the River Alliance of Wisconsin
  • Donna Peterson, of the Southeast Gateway Group Sierra Club
  • Bonnie Prochaska, the owner of Ginkgo Leaf Consulting
  • Thomas Schnaubelt, the dean for Community Engagement and Civic Learning at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside
  • Melissa Warner, coordinator of Weed Out! Racine and vice chair of the Southeast Gateway Group Sierra Club
Allison Werner and Helen Sarakinos, staff with the River Alliance of Wisconsin, were the paid consultants on the job.

Here's a link to the JT's story on the report. The comments aren't real supportive (surprise, surprise).


  1. Good idea as long as TAX money is not used for this. Racine has a crime issue that must be addressed before we spend one more penny on anything else then bring the RPD were they need to be.
    This project should be paid for by the Buseness downtown who would gain from it

  2. ...Racine would benefit if it can replace the old industrial buildings on the Root with newer developments...

    I look forward to the high profile developers stepping up and putting some money into the river properties. Waterfront properties are so hot.