Summertime Lemonade in Sheboygan!

Jul 22, 2014

We’ve all heard that old phrase about making lemonade from lemons and that’s exactly what Sheboygan has been doing since 2001. That’s when the city began doing something about the polluted Sheboygan River as well as several brownfield sites in its downtown, riverfront, and lakefront areas.

Once identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a superfund site, the Sheboygan River was classified as a toxic site in the 1987 Great Lakes Water Quality Act. In 2013, the EPA completed an $80 million project of dredging the contaminated materials and restoring habitats along the now beautiful waterway that flows through the heart of the city into Lake Michigan.

In 2001, the city acquired a 42-acre brownfield site situated at the mouth of the Sheboygan River where it joins the lakefront. Now known as the South Pier District, this area was an industrial storage site for 100 years for coal, salt and various industrial products. With a $3 million grant from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the site was remediated and the city installed over $12 million in infrastructure improvements. Today, South Pier is home to several commercial and mixed use developments. At the heart of it is the beautiful Blue Harbor Resort and Hotel, the largest resort on Lake Michigan which hosts more than 190 business conferences a year and serves as a corporate and family recreational center. Blue Harbor is a major anchor to the reclaimed harbor area and leads the way for new upcoming lakeshore development.

But the work isn’t quite done. This past month, Sheboygan County was awarded a $400,000 brownfield grant by the EPA to conduct environmental site assessments on 16 brownfield sites and to assist in remediation efforts. In a press release announcing the grant, Aaron Brault, Sheboygan County’s Director of Planning and Conservation said, “Although brownfield sites might be well-positioned for or be especially conducive to redevelopment, they cannot be built upon or put to new use if the possibility of hazardous substance contamination exists.” The grant goes a long way toward getting those properties back into circulation with repurposing.

Sheboygan has been quietly reinventing itself from old school manufacturing to higher quality manufacturing and other industries. With a committed effort, it’s turning the lemons of the brownfield sites into lemonade. It’s something to think about this summer as we begin planning ahead for the upcoming year. Sometimes the next best project happens to be in our own backyard, right under our noses. Sometimes it’s that brownfield site at the end of the block, or even that empty bean cannery just waiting to be turned into lemonade or better yet, perhaps a brewery that makes award-winning beer!

Congratulations Sheboygan on your progress! We know you’re not done yet. But we’re all starting to wake up and learn from your example of re-purposing old properties and remaking our cities.

For more information:

Greg Polacheck, Director of Market Research

gpolacheck@smet.com