By STEFANIE SCOTT, Tosa NOW
Posted: Sept. 8, 2010
The proximity of homes to North Avenue businesses is one of the things that make the East Tosa commercial district unique.
The homeowners are the ones who patronize the businesses and walk the 16-block stretch for recreation. For many of them, North Avenue is considered an extension of their front yards.
And in a survey of 350 people, the condition of the surrounding neighborhoods was cited as the district’s greatest asset.
So why not incorporate the pride of living in East Tosa into the design plans for an improved North Avenue?
That was one of the conclusions drawn last week after a two-day work session involving planners, city officials and residents living on the city’s east side between 76th and 60th streets.
“Often people drive 20 to 30 miles from their homes to go to a Walmart,” planner Marty Shukert said. “That isn’t the case here. We want people to shop right in their own neighborhood.”
Architecture may play a role
Planners also are looking at ways to incorporate the diverse home styles of the surrounding neighborhood into a revived North Avenue.
It just so happens that homes are generally lumped by architectural style in four-block concentrations, providing natural distinctions within the larger district. For example, there are many bungalows from 60th to 64th streets, but further west one can see European Revival, American Revival and Tudor homes.
Those architectural styles and materials could be incorporated as older buildings along North Avenue are spruced up or redeveloped. Banners or medallions telling visitors just what architectural styles they’re seeing in an area may be installed on light posts and archways.
“It’s very symbolic of the evolution of North Avenue,” Alderwoman Linda Nikcevich said of the idea to focus on the surrounding neighborhoods. “Subliminally, it hits on what’s really been going on around here the last 20 years.”
The idea of emphasizing the residential neighborhoods as the backbone of the district makes sense since the neighborhood associations, residents and business owners that comprise the North Avenue Neighborhood Alliance have done the heavy lifting to get the area to this point.
So far, so good
“I’m ecstatic with how this whole process went so far,” said Ed Haydin, who is representing the alliance on the city planning committee for North Avenue.
Between 20 to 40 people turned out at Cranky Al’s to throw out ideas about how to make the district a destination location.
“This is really the first time we began to get into design,” Haydin said. “It’s really very early in the process and a lot of refinement is needed.”
The planner and committee will complete drawings of the entire corridor and refine some of the ideas that came out of the work sessions. They also will address the concepts of financing and marketing in a draft plan later this year.
A survey of East Tosa neighbors, business owners and patrons provided some insight as to what they believe to be the highlights and low points of the commercial district.
Love it: The strongest marks went to the quality of restaurants, the condition of surrounding residential neighborhoods, walkability, the quality of businesses that opened in the last 10 years, customer experience and neighborhood support.
Loathe it: Respondents said the following areas need some major help: North Avenue’s public image, marketing and promotional activities, the number and quality of special events, ability to attract people from outside the neighborhood, bicycle access and pedestrian safety, and city support for the district.
Go for it: People were supportive of redeveloping underused sites, holding arts events, recruiting specific types of businesses, coordinating with Milwaukee on projects, improving streetscape features and pedestrian access, providing outdoor seating and creating a business improvement district.
Don’t even think about it: Respondents don’t want to see a parking structure, added diagonal street parking or traffic diverted away from North Avenue.
What could be
Some features that could be incorporated into an improved North Avenue.
• Municipal parking lots could be paved with stamped concrete and covered to create an urban plaza during special events. Extending the lots into the attached street lane could add nearly a dozen parking spots.
• Large areas of asphalt not efficient for parking could be transformed into green space or outdoor seating.
• Near the city’s east border, water spray equipment covered by a large umbrella is up for consideration. It would provide a place for families to gather.
• Neighborhood gateways could provide a reminder that people should park before they reach a certain point on a cross street. The road could also narrow to calm traffic.
• Encourage larger, architecturally significant businesses on street corners and outdoor seating or service areas.