Despite objections by one property owner, the Sun Prairie Plan Commission voted Jan. 14 to recommend city council approval of the Sun Prairie Stronger plan for the Main-Bristol intersection.
Since April 2019, the ad-hoc Downtown Steering Committee has been working with city staff and The Lakota Group of Chicago, Illinois, to draft a redevelopment plan for the properties surrounding the site of the July 10, 2018 gas leak and explosion at the corner of Main and Bristol Streets.
The primary task was to work with the community to develop a vision to guide redevelopment of the properties that were directly impacted by the incident.
However, the Lakota Group was tasked with also looking at the two-block area between this site and Ashley Field, which is currently under reconstruction, to take advantage of any potential synergy between the two areas. The result is the Sun Prairie Stronger Plan, which provides a guide for property owners, developers and the City for reinventing this key location in the heart of the community.
During the course of a seven-month period, the committee and Lakota Group made 1,800 contacts with members of the public at various focus group discussions with property owners and other stakeholders, community open houses and forums, and through online surveys. The public input was evaluated and became the basis for the concepts, scenarios and renderings included in the plan.
On Dec. 17, 2019, the Downtown Steering Committee voted unanimously to recommend adoption of the Sun Prairie Stronger Plan as a component of the City of Sun Prairie Comprehensive Plan, 2019-2039. The formal adoption process requires a public hearing and consideration by the Plan Commission, and formal adoption of the Sun Prairie Stronger Plan as part of an ordinance adopted by the Sun Prairie City Council.
The plan includes development proposals for properties located from the intersection south to Lane and west to Ashley Field and includes a below grade parking structure, public space in a courtyard located between two L-shaped buildings near the southwestern corner of Bristol and Main; a boutique hotel along North Bristol near Main and a festival street concept along Lane Street from Bristol to what planners from The Lakota Group want to be Jones Street extended into where Prairie Phoenix Academy is currently located.
The Sun Prairie Stronger plan includes land currently occupied by Sun Prairie Utilities at 125 W. Main — a site that stretches all the way to Lane Street to the south. Sun Prairie Utilities has been attempting to identify parcels of land where a new office, shop garage, parking lot and storage yard could be located because SPU is out of space at 125 W. Main.
The Sun Prairie Stronger plan also includes a mix and scale of housing types, from multi-family apartments in a five-story building to single story row houses and two-story single family homes. “We think this is a very positive piece of this plan,” Community Development Director Scott Kugler said.
Other features of the plan include:
• Preservation of The Crosse House, the historic home of Dr. Crosse, founder of the Countryman newspaper which eventually became the Star-Countryman and then the Sun Prairie Star. The plan shows initial preservation of the site with a neighboring home razed to allow for more space in a campus-like setting for the historic home;
• Mixed-use development at the corner of Main and Bristol streets will fit in with the existing environment along the balance of the downtown’s traditional business district to the east;
• The recommended step back of the upper floor for buildings at the Bristol and Main intersection will help balance the need for financial attainability and an acceptable scale along the streetscape;
• The provision of public spaces for the community to enjoy, including the proposed ‘festival street’ along Lane Street, will help create a vibrant environment and activate the area; and
• The extension of both Lane and Jones streets will help connect the downtown with Ashley Field in a positive way, and provide not only an opportunity for pedestrian oriented events and circulation, but also improved access and circulation for both bicyclists and motorists in this area.
Although the plan included no funding mechanism, it generated objections from Brian Blaschka, owner of Ben’s Auto, which is located on the corner of South Street and West Main, just a block from the intersection.
“It seems like it’s a very costly project,” said Blaschka, who distributed a list of questions to commissioners at the meeting. He said Tax Increment Finance (TIF) money availability and distribution is a concern even at this stage.
He asked how many businesses are going to be able to fit into cookie cutter spots in the multi-use buildings along Main Street.
“I think this plan is going to take a long time to get into fruition,” Blaschka said.
When the developers get to his property, the market will be so flooded nobody will want his property, he said. He also does not think any of that was taken into account during the planning effort.
Mayor Paul Esser stressed that the Sun Prairie Stronger Plan is just a visionary document — an effort to demonstrate what could be possible at the intersection and for the land surrounding it.
Blaschka was also critical of city efforts to get the word out about the planning process.
“I never found out about it until just before the last meeting, which would have been the steering committee meeting.”
Joe Powelka, owner of the home at 113 W. Main St. that was destroyed during the July 10, 2018 natural gas explosion near the intersection of Bristol and Main, spoke in favor of the proposal.
Powelka said he’s been working with Glass Nickel Pizza owner Adam Bougie and developer David Baehr on a plan for the south side where his property was located east to Bristol Street. He said they’ve been working together trying to get a design developed, and getting feedback from city staff.
He said within the next three months, a plan will be presented and that it will be close to the recommended design concepts. But, he also reminded commissioners that the plan is only a guide.
In response to a question from Sun Prairie Plan Commissioner Dave Hoekstra, Kugler said he believed a new redevelopment TIF District, which Kugler referred to as TIF 14, would be needed to complete the plan.
While he stopped short of predicting it would happen, Kugler said that a new TIF District would be his recommended method to accomplish the improvements shown in the plan.