MENASHA, Wis. – There was a time when the Lawson Canal was an electrical canal, important primarily for the two paper mills it served.
By 2024, the City of Menasha hopes the Lawson Canal Corridor will be a powerful draw for residents of Fox Valley and across the state.
While the engineering and design phase is still underway, they expect the project to provide approximately one mile of public waterfront accessibility along the Fox River. It is part of a larger 14-acre redevelopment plan that will provide a mixed-use waterfront neighborhood that will include kayaking, tubing, walking trails, biking trails, bird watching and fishing. The plan also includes restaurants and shops.
“So right now Banta Lofts is a mixed-use development,” said Megan Sackett, director of parks and recreation for the City of Menasha. “This is the development that is being built right now. Part of it will be residential upstairs, then commercial downstairs, and it’s directly along the waterfront of the canal. There are still, I think it’s three or four other sites, potentially developable there.
“So yes, there will more than likely be more mixed-use developments happening there. But always with a focus on access to the waterfront for people who don’t live there. So encompassing everything.
There have been talks of building a whitewater course to serve as a venue for kayaking competitions, but that remains up in the air.
“We will determine that when we complete the engineering and design phase,” Sackett said. “There is one in the Wausau area (Wausau Whitewater Park). So as we work through this design phase, it will sort of determine exactly what this course will look like.
The final cost of the project is also to be determined. Some of the funding will come from a TIF district, and the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region has provided a $325,000 grant through its Nelson Family Fund.
“It’s very instrumental,” Sackett said of the grant. “They’ve been very supportive throughout this process. And so, from a community perspective, asking them to invest those dollars first, I think, says a lot about getting their support. And then hopefully propelling us forward to involve other community groups in the project, so I would say that was very instrumental in helping us move into the next phase.”
The Lawson Canal Corridor was identified some 20 years ago in a study as a waterfront redevelopment site. So Sackett said residents are ready to finally see this happen.
“Since I’ve been here, and been part of this project, the community has really bonded with this idea and understood that it would be a draw for the community,” she said. “It’s unique in the entire Fox Valley area. And it plays a key role in the redevelopment of the city center, and in particular the area of the Banta-Gilbert site. So he was very well received. »
Andrew Dane, a consultant on the project who works for Neighborhood Planners in Appleton, said this waterfront development could become much more prominent in the years to come.
“I think it’s part of a bigger kind of redevelopment success story, a waterfront success story for the whole town of Menasha,” Dane said. “Truly embracing the waterfront and canals. I see this as sort of integrating into a larger narrative of really starting to embrace the canals and creating real destinations along the waterfront throughout Menasha City.
Dane said he believes there are still several miles of waterfront properties that could be developed.
“Sometimes I think we lose sight of that, especially for Menasha,” he said. “It’s really the waterfront. Neenah-Menasha is really the Fox Cities waterfront area. And it’s just endless possibilities here once we kind of turn the corner from these towns to the waterfront.”
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