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Downtown Dells revitalization plan to be unveiled in September

Downtown Dells revitalization plan to be unveiled in September

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The design firm that produced elements of downtown Madison's revitalization has come up with a plan to do similar things for Wisconsin Dells. Those plans will be revealed to the public on Sept. 21.

The design team that helped transform Lambeau Field into an NFL showplace is bringing its creative touch to downtown Wisconsin Dells.

Zebradog, the Madison-based “dynamic environment design” consultant that had a leading hand in the revitalization of the Green Bay Packers’ home field during the past 15 years, next month will unveil a proposal for the planned $40-million revitalization effort of downtown Dells.

The firm’s proposal — which will retain the “River Arts District” concept first proposed in the Roger Brooks downtown revitalization study in 2014 — will receive its public unveiling Sept. 21 at the city’s monthly Common Council meeting.

The unveiling will take place before a joint meeting of the Council and the city’s Business Improvement District (BID), Dells Mayor Brian Landers confirmed Thursday. Landers said he will invite all of the city’s committees to attend the meeting as well.

“This is a citywide task — the more people who see the work Zebradog has created, the better,” Landers said.

The plan’s “River Arts” theme will more directly connect the nearby Wisconsin River and the Dells’ geographic and artistic heritage — including H.H. Bennett’s photographic legacy and the cultural presence of the Ho-Chunk Nation, Landers said.

“Zebradog has captured the history and beauty of the river and is giving us a lot of ideas to take that and put it into our downtown and other areas of our city, too,” Landers said, adding that the plan “celebrates the history and celebrates the river in a very modern way.”

“I do believe the work Zebradog has done will be very well received by the city and the Council,” he said.

The plan was unveiled by the design firm this week in a private session before the Dells’ Downtown Tourism Development Committee, which is guiding the revitalization and includes Landers, Lake Delton village trustee, business owner and community leader Tom Diehl and several other local elected officials and business leaders. The revitalization effort’s website can be found at

Diehl, who chairs the tourism development committee, on Wednesday confirmed the continuing use of the “River Arts” theme in the revitalization plan — a theme met with skepticism in some quarters when it was proposed in the Brooks study a year ago.

“Some people don’t like ‘River Arts,’ but Zebradog came in and basically endorsed the ‘River Arts’ theme,” Diehl said. “How many times does one consultant agree with the other one?”

Landers, for one, said he was “incredibly excited” about Zebradog’s proposed creative direction, which will include such artistic flourishes as mosaics and murals as well as dedicated signage and “way-finding” elements that will evoke a common theme — an approach the design firm has executed successfully in other Wisconsin locales including Lambeau Field.

“A lot of it is about developing a brand, a theme, a sense of arrival,” he said. “When you get there, you feel like you’ve arrived, there’s an identity to these locations.”

Besides the hallowed ground of Lambeau, the locales having received the Zebradog treatment include Madison and its State Street and University of Wisconsin nexus, the cities of Fitchburg and Middleton and Duke University’s high-storied basketball program.

The firm’s proposed plan for downtown Dells will seek more to enhance and enliven the experience and what is unique to it compared with other area locales, said Chris Moore, vice president and new media director of Zebradog.

“We’re really excited because the Dells area is an exciting place with a lot happening there — it’s beautiful, with great spaces and a great downtown experience,” Moore said.

The proposal, he said, will attempt to “just kind of dust it off and bring out what’s great about it, ultimately for the visitor and the consumer. There’s so much there that’s great.”

Central to the theme, Moore confirmed, is the downtown’s connection to the river, its history and the people who have occupied the area around it for centuries — a connection that often gets obscured by the visual cacophony that greets visitors as they enter the downtown on Broadway.

“We’re not creating anything that isn’t there already,” he said, reflecting what seems to be the firm’s goal in general, i.e. bringing out an area’s “authentic” character. “We’re just helping tell peoples’ stories, and we do that in a public way.”

Moore’s firm was retained, according to Landers, via funding from the Dells Visitor and Convention Bureau, under whose umbrella the downtown revitalization plan has been hatched and will continue.

“This is a huge gift from the Bureau to the city of the Dells, in helping us have a game plan going forward — now it’s up to the city to approve that and take it on,” he said.

As Landers and Diehl both know, whatever comes to fruition in the downtown Dells area must go through the proper municipal challenges before any actual downtown changes take place.

“It’s their city, they have to be the ones to approve this,” said Diehl, who said that the committee met with Zebradog in closed sessions over the past few months so that ideas could be proffered and hatched without immediate, sometimes “premature,” opposition.

“Things were getting out that appeared as though they were Gospel and they weren’t — things were being released prematurely,” Diehl said. “People were getting excited about things.”


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