Photo © Mike Roemer

The CityDeck


Green Bay, Wisconsin

On the Waterfront: A quarter-mile-long stretch of docks, piers, and boardwalk is bringing city life right up to the edge of Green Bay's historic Fox River.

By Lee Bey

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Four years ago, the quarter-mile-long stretch of land along the Fox River, about a block from downtown Green Bay, Wisconsin, was mostly a simple path and a large empty space behind a mall parking structure. Today, the 2.5-acre site presents a very different scene. On the first day of summer, office workers are taking a midday stroll on the Fox River bank. A muscular guy with three trotting dogs glides by on a bicycle. And in a perfect—almost nostalgic—warm-weather tableau, two boys sit at the water's edge, preparing their poles and lines for a day of fishing. “It was not highly developed at all,” says Michelle Bailey, a downtown worker taking a minute from an afternoon stroll. “But now, there are people here. Things are different.” “It was nothing,” adds Bailey's colleague Linda Myers. “Now it's coming alive.”

The transformation comes courtesy of the CityDeck, a $14 million public boardwalk with docks, landscaping, and open space built in three phases between 2009 and 2012. The project has activated the water's edge and brought the city of 106,000 closer to the eastern shore of the historic river, which flows into Lake Michigan at Green Bay. It has also served as a catalyst for real estate development on the blocks closest to the river.

“We wanted to create a place that touched the minds and the hearts of Green Bay,” states Chris Reed, principal of Stoss Landscape Urbanism, the Boston firm that designed CityDeck. Reed says his firm and Green Bay's civic leaders wanted a project in which “you can enjoy the city and the river. And as it came to fruition over the last three years, you saw that happening.”

CityDeck begins near a line of commercial, retail, and residential buildings that create a mixed-use zone facing the riverbank. Landscaping and a northsouth path laid with elongated hexagonal concrete pavers attract pedestrians, cyclists, and joggers. But the waterfront complex changes character as it terraces down closer to the river. The pavers transition to a modern boardwalk made of durable ipé wood that yields a solid, old-school “clump-clump” sound when trod on.

“We said, 'If this is a river town, it should have a boardwalk,' ” Reed recalls. He and his design team created substantial gathering spaces as well as quiet spots along the long wooden strip. The city programs these spaces with bands, outdoor dining, even movies. In one of its most visible features, portions of the boardwalk angle up, producing tilted surfaces on which sunbathers and sky-gazers can stretch out.

At the edge of the river, CityDeck juts toward the water, with overlooks, platforms, fishing piers, and boat docks. “We wanted to create this incredibly layered situation, so it wasn't just one edge, but multiple edges,” Reed explains. “We designed it so it would go down to the river. By sloping it, we could give people a different perspective—while at the same time separating these movements from the main ones away from the river.”

A variety of construction methods and materials were used to create those layers. The overlooks are supported by concrete-filled pipe piles anchored in bedrock below the river. Stainless-steel X-braces between the piles keep the structure stiff against ice and other marine forces. Floating docks were designed to sustain live loads.

CityDeck also performs a less visible but important duty as a flood barrier between the Fox River and the nearby buildings. The new, engineered shoreline extends farther out in the river than the old one did, creating a deeper setback for the existing buildings. Reed explains that the team designed the project's lower portions, which would be at flood-stage positions during a storm, to let rising waters pass through them when necessary.

Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt championed CityDeck's construction. “He put the weight of his office behind it,” Reed says. “He said, 'Look, if we want to improve the quality of life in the city in general, we need to improve the quality of life downtown.' ”

The tactic appears to be working, as the project has sparked construction and building rehabs along the river. In May the city announced plans for a $10 million, 84-unit luxury apartment complex called CityDeck Commons scheduled to be completed by December 2014.

Meanwhile, the city's planners want to make sure new developments don't wall off CityDeck from downtown, so they have extended streets and sidewalks to provide easy pedestrian access to the project.

What's next for the riverfront? Reed says people are discussing ideas for redeveloping the bank opposite CityDeck. “If CityDeck becomes this social hub, then across the river you could have wetland terraces,” he says, hinting at a potential new project that would be a soft, layered natural counterpoint to the angular hardscape of the existing one, but would grant the same easy access to the water.

Lee Bey is a writer specializing in architecture and urban planning and a contributor for Chicago public radio station WBEZ.

Architect [Landscape]:
Stoss Landscape Urbanism
423 W Broadway #304
Boston MA 02127
phone: 617 464 1140
fax: 617 464 1142

Size: 109,000 square feet

Cost: $13.7 million

Completion date: October 2012

August 2013
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