Brainstorming session marks start of studies into possible lakefront amenities, programs
Three years after Coal Dock Park opened, Port Washington officials are beginning to take a new look at the park with an eye toward future improvements.
About 35 people gathered at City Hall last week to begin the process, brainstorming about amenities and programs that could build on what is already there.
Their ideas ranged from the practical — bathrooms and increased parking — to the more whimsical — docking a retired coal dock boat there.
Mayor Tom Mlada said the meeting was intended to start a renewed planning process for the park.
“We need to take the initial vision for the park and build on that,” he said. “There’s so much potential there. Let’s start dreaming.”
After all, dreaming is how the park got started.
The city converted the 13-acre northern portion of the former coal dock, which many considered an eyesore, into a gem of a park and the 7-acre south dock into a bird sanctuary.
That first vision for the park, approved in 2009, was a 10-year plan that included everything from walking trails to a community center, themed interactive garden area, performance space, observation tower, deep-water docks and a floating pier.
When the park opened in 2013, the city had placed much of the basic infrastructure there, Mlada said.
“I think the thought back then was, let’s live with it for a couple years and then see what’s needed,” he said. “We wanted to try and get a sense of how it would be used.
“Now we have to look at it and decide, where do we go from here.”
There is still some infrastructure that needs to be completed, Mlada said, including the railing along the promenade and electrical systems to support festivals and events.
But now, he said, is the time to look forward and plan again for the future.
“That was a 2020 plan. We’re halfway there,” Mlada said.
“Do you have unique family gathering areas? Do you have a bandshell? Do you have a floating pier? How do you connect the park to downtown?
“This is the time to start going down the path.”
The city needs to consider such things as whether a building will be constructed at the park, Mlada said, noting that could be done in partnership with entities such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is considering creation of a shipwreck sanctuary between Port Washington and Two Rivers, Discovery World or Concordia University.
“The hope had been the park would become a four-season destination,” Mlada noted. “The reality is, then you would need a building.”
A bridge connecting Coal Dock Park with downtown was a consideration when the park opened, and it remained so for the group assembled last week.
But that’s an expensive project, one the city may not be able to afford for the time being, Mlada said.
“The bridge is obviously a nice idea,” he said. “From a cost standpoint, it might not be practical.
“I understand it feels like a little bit of a walk-around (to get from the park to downtown). But I do think there are cost effective ways to get the message across with signage.”
Mlada said he plans to take ideas proposed by the group last week to the Coal Dock Committee in the next month or so.
“I think it could bring some new energy to the group,” he said, noting the committee has not met in a year or more.