What’s the holdup? Safety, mostly: Sterling riverfront area still not open to the public

August 8, 2018

STERLING – About 30,000 cubic yards of dirt now sprouting grass and flowers is making at least a portion of the old steel mill site presentable.

Planter boxes are even being installed on the 20+ acres that once housed Northwestern Steel and Wire Plant 1.

Due to safety and other issues, though, the area known as Gateway Plaza, at Wallace Street and Avenue B, still is not open to the public, and council members and others want to know why.

City Manager Scott Shumard addressed the issue at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

The site doesn’t comply with the Americans with Disability Act, and no benches have been installed because of the lack of accessibility, Shumard said.

There also are 6- to-8-foot unfenced drop-offs along the retaining walls along the river.

People who sneak onto the site are littering. There are no garbage cans, and a fence that has been installed along the riverfront has been damaged.

There’s no electricity, so no security cameras, and the site is so large police can’t patrol it.

“Until you go down there and spend some time – the vast size of that, I don’t think people understand how much is there,” Police Chief Tim Morgan said. “Control of people there is impossible.”

Last summer, Dustin Wolff, the city’s planning consultant from Wisconsin-based engineer and architect firm Mead & Hunt, was asked to develop a plan to increase riverfront accessibility.

Creating access from Wallace Street to the riverfront, and from Gateway Plaza to the overlook was one of three phases of work to be done on the entire site, which was divided into west and east project areas.

The cost of work on the east portion, where the plaza is located, was estimated to cost about $2.1 million and include walkways and lighting, public wi-fi and safety components such as video cameras and emergency call boxes.

No target date was established, though, because the funds weren’t there.

Tuesday, Shumard and Public Works Superintendent Brad Schrader met with a contractor, though, to work on bid specifications for a 10-foot-wide path from the plaza to the Rock River. The city has $75,000 budgeted this year for the path.

Other things Shumard said the city wants to accomplish before opening the area:

• Install signs warning of risks at the site, as well as signs about the site’s history, current condition and plans.

• Fence off the drop-offs, and the west, south, and east sides of a warehouse that will be moved off-site in the fall.

• Plan an accessible entry path.

• Pay for lights and cameras.

• Install trash cans.

As of now, there’s no timeline for that work to be done.

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