The Rivers II: New riverfront project aims for young professionals

The elderly residents of The Rivers are about to get some young, professional neighbors.

The Rivers II would add 80 market-rate, riverfront apartments in the central city and add a five-story apartment building to the Marion Road Redevelopment Area landscape. The project cleared the first of three municipal hurdles when the Oshkosh Plan Commission unanimously approved the development plan Tuesday evening.

Oshkosh River Development LLC partners Andy Dumke and Cal Schultz, the same group behind 60-unit The Rivers building, plan to replicate The Rivers design, but with a larger footprint and more modern-looking facade. Dumke said the group wants the project to provide a boost to momentum central city revitalization has started to build this year.

“It’s a little bit more of what you’d see in downtown Madison or Milwaukee. It has a little more industrial look to it,” Dumke told the Commission Tuesday. “Our target audience is a young professional that wants to live downtown, maybe a graduate student. It’s not student housing. It’s not necessarily families. (It’s) young professionals who want to live, shop and eat downtown who want to be part of the downtown experience.”

Plans call for underground parking in the first floor followed by four floors of two-bedroom apartments ranging from 950-1,035 square feet. Rents will range from $900 to $1,075 per month.

The city has retained ownership of the land as part of its developers agreement with Oshkosh River Development for the vacant parcels in the Marion Road Redevelopment Area and would sell it to the group for $1 when the project is completed.

As it stands, The Rivers II has some underlying complications that raised some concern from the Plan Commission. Many of them were allayed as city staff and Dumke went through the financial and environmental challenges involved.

The spot chosen for the building will leave a vacant, 1.4-acre parcel between The Rivers II and The Rivers. Oshkosh Community Development Director Allen Davis said the building was moved closer to Jackson Street to avoid having to deal with the worst patch of soil contamination in the redevelopment area.

“There’s a lot of contamination on that site and part of the process of redevelopment is placing buildings where we can reduce our remediation costs,” Davis said. “In the southeast corner (of the vacant site), there’s some highly contaminated things we’d like to take care of with a cap. We’d like to put those underneath parking lots rather than a building.”

He bluntly said removing the contaminated soil completely would cost “more than the city or the private sector is willing to spend” and that the tax incremental financing district, or TIF, would incur heavy costs anyway as the project is proposed.

“Right now, just to (address soil contamination where) they’re talking about for The Rivers II, the city’s going to have to spend about $1.1 million,” Davis said. “The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. gave us about $300,000, too. There’s no way the TIF could ever pay for (treating the worst contamination) and get the increment out of it.”

Davis added that the project’s size and scope was conceived so it would generate at least $5.2 million in new property value so it could help bolster revenues generated by the district.

“We need probably around $15-20 million to still develop to get that TIF to pay off,” Davis said. “Based on the density and the value, this project makes economic sense. This one is a net gain for the TIF district. If you take the density down, we’ll have less value to make the TIF perform.”

In the end, Commissioners supported the project, but they still asked for some riverfront design standards to help guide future redevelopment efforts as they begin to shape up.

“I appreciate the candor about the redevelopment issues. It’s critical for us to know to make informed choices,” Commissioner David Borsuk said. “But we have no vision for this. We’ve got what we’ve got because we didn’t want to wait. We’re afraid to wait so we can have a cohesive development.”

We know that’s a lot to digest, but Streetwise took several things away from the project’s details:

  1. Big picture, this project will add bodies downtown as Dumke mentioned and will add some variety to the architectural landscape along the riverfront. Councilor Steve Cummings, the council Plan Commission representative, noted Oshkosh had been “architecturally challenged” in recent years, but this has the potential to fit well with the river walk design and, hopefully, future projects nearby. 
  2. Challenge developers to up the ante in lieu of design standards. The Commission’s call for riverfront design standards is an interesting idea, but Plan Commission Chairman Tom Fojtik hit upon some concerns that it would be tough to develop standards, especially in a community where prior and current efforts to develop design standards have been met with blowback. Instead, let’s see if the city or community or both can provide some incentive to do something unique, to raise the bar.
  3. Everything about this had to work just so for it to work at all. The need to avoid major contamination, the need to generate at least $5.2 million in value, the need to bolster the TIF’s revenue stream and the need to still keep a decent chunk of attractive property along Jackson Street available for redevelopment all show a lot of planning went into making this work.

About Jeff Bollier

Jeff Bollier is an award-winning public affairs reporter for the Oshkosh Northwestern who covers everything from city hall to business. As Streetwise, Jeff delivers updates on the comings and goings of Oshkosh's retail and business world. Jeff is an avid Instagram and Twitter user and a member of the Northwestern Bacon Team.
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