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Friday, February 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 14.0° F  Fair
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How about a cafe on the Yahara River Parkway?
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One idea that is being floated is to create a few blocks of restaurants and coffee shops.
Credit:City of Madison

Madison will look to the Yahara River waterfront in the coming weeks as it considers plans to redevelop the scenic, open space into a hub for recreation and development.

The Yahara River, which links lakes Mendota and Monona, runs about a mile across the isthmus. Roughly 50 feet of green space on either side make up the public Yahara River Parkway.

"As we move forward as a city, I think that we are more attuned to the value of our lakes, our waterways and making sure that we retain what's good," says Ald. Ledell Zellers (District 2).

Bill Fruhling, the principal city planner for the project, says that the city has been looking to enhance the parkway since at least 1998 when it adopted the Yahara River Parkway and Environs Master Plan. In January 2013, city planning staff compiled the Yahara Gateway and Parkway Summary and Overview, which summarizes recommendations for the area from previously adopted neighborhood plans.

Since September, the city has collected public input for the project and will host another public meeting (PDF) at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 30 at the Goodman Community Center.

One idea that is being floated is to create a few blocks of restaurants and coffee shops in a European-inspired riverside style.

"It would be really quite an attraction, and probably more in warmer weather," says Zellers. "But I think it can be really attractive in colder weather, too, to have a view of the Yahara River and snow."

The corridor around the river is a designated city landmark and holds a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

"It's an asset not only as a natural space but also as a historical and cultural resource within our community," says Fruhling.

Previously adopted neighborhood plans have recommended more integration of bike and pedestrian paths, better access to the river, redevelopment of industrial and underutilized areas along the parkway and the creation of more green space to enhance recreational opportunities.

The redesign could also spur redevelopment of nearby private properties by making the area more appealing to businesses and residents. Fruhling says the project's focus is making the Yahara corridor a place where people want to be.

"If you create that kind of energy around a place, then people start taking notice and some private development could follow," Fruhling says.

Zellers says the area currently has a number of unused warehouses and vacant buildings. "Having a vacant building in such a desirable location is unfortunate," she says.

Additionally, the Yahara redevelopment could integrate other open spaces in the area, such as Burr Jones Park on East Washington Avenue and Tenney Park on East Johnson Street.

"The Yahara is one of those kind of great assets within a community that is not always noticed or appreciated," Fruhling says. "What we're trying to do is have that rise to the appropriate level of community amenity that it can be -- and that it deserves to be -- while maintaining kind of that natural respite."

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