Oak Creek approves $42 million lakefront park and bluff work starting in June


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Dec 16, 2023

Oak Creek approves $42 million lakefront park and bluff work starting in June

Oak Creek’s lakefront is a step closer to new attractions such as a looping pier

Oak Creek's lakefront is a step closer to new attractions such as a looping pier over the waterfront and a pedestrian bridge over a ravine that currently blocks people trekking north from Bender Park.

Those are part of a long-range, $42 million plan the Oak Creek Common Council unanimously approved Tuesday to reopen more than a half-mile of Lake Michigan frontage to the public. A contract has already been awarded for the first phase that will stabilize the existing bluff to guard against further erosion, while laying the ground work for future paths and other features, said Andrew Vickers, Oak Creek city administrator.

"The idea was let's create a really awesome park that has a walking promenade along the new revetment of this bluff where people can actually get down to the shoreline and Lake Michigan," Vickers said.

That section of lakefront was long used by manufacturers that left behind contamination and vacant industrial buildings. The city for years has been acquiring and cleaning sites along the bluff to put back into public use. Earlier phases of that effort created Lake Vista Park, and the Lakeshore Commons housing redevelopment that is underway now.

This next section of lakeshore north of Lake Vista Park includes about 23 acres for the planned park, and about 46 more tabbed to eventually be cleaned and developed.

"We are at the point where we wanted to be, and that is redeveloping the areas that were ready and planned for redevelopment, but most importantly, this regional park asset," Vickers said. "We really only get one lakefront to work with, and we are making sure we make the right investments to make this a multi-generational asset that lots of folks can enjoy."

Planning for the park grew out of the need to stabilize the bluff, Vickers said. Oak Creek elected officials, in adopting the park plan Tuesday, confirmed their intent to spend more money to create that park while also securing the bluff against erosion. The city hired Edgewater Resources to draft a plan for the park based on public input.

The bluff stabilization could start in June under a $9.3 million contract awarded to Edgerton Contractors of Oak Creek in April, Vickers said.

"We created a strategy knowing there is a sense of urgency with the bluff, because once it falls it, it is a little bit difficult to reconstruct it," Vickers said.

In a milestone for the cleanup of the lakeshore, Edgerton Contractors this year will demolish the final remaining industrial building in the area under a $686,400 contract, Vickers said. That property was formerly a Peter Cooper Corp. glue factory. The building set for demolition was a vat house, Vickers said.

The long-range plan for the park can be broken into segments as the city secures money for the work. A next phase valued at $4.4 million would add trails, landscaping and other elements needed to stabilize the bluff. There's also a $1.4 million children's play area, $12.4 million for the pedestrian bridge over the ravine at the lakefront water outflow pipe, and $5.5 million for an arch-shaped pier over the water, for example.

"It needs to be wrapped in a financial plan, and we need to be able to go incrementally along with this considerable investment in our lake, because it can't all be done at once," Vickers said.

The bluff work starting this week will be financed by two existing tax incremental financing districts in Oak Creek. That means new property taxes generated by the city's OakView Business Park and the Amazon.com distribution center near Ryan Road and Interstate 94 will help pay for that work.

Future phases of park construction could be financed through the existing TIF district at the lakefront, Vickers said. That could mean property taxes from the Lakeshore Commons buildings being built now could help pay for the park.

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