Monona is getting ready to begin its biggest development in 20 years, a riverfront project that will convert run-down or vacant buildings surrounded by unruly weeds to a park, shops, restaurants and apartments.

Galway Cos. will begin construction on the project in December, the first leg of a $36 million, 7½-acre project at Bridge Road and West Broadway that’s expected to be complete by early 2023. The redevelopment, called Yahara Commons, eventually will add valuable tax base to the city, which is landlocked by Madison on one side and Lake Monona on the other.

The first phase — scheduled to be completed by spring 2019 — will focus on the construction of a five-story, mixed-use building that will include 96 apartments, a large anchor restaurant, a coffee shop and several service-based retail shops, such as a wine store, said Galway’s principal, Steve Doran. Leases will be finalized in the coming months.

It also will add over 250 above- and below-ground parking spaces and a park in the center of the area, abutting the Yahara River, according to the plan. A new road through the development will provide entry from both Bridge Road and West Broadway.

“The community has been buzzing” about the project, said Sonja Reichertz, Monona city planner and economic development director. There’s a demand for a “destination space” in Monona, where residents can grab a drink on the water or stop their bikes for a snack, since the Lake Loop path will be at the “doorstep” of the development, she said. There will also be a kayak launch for residents.

When the entire project is complete, the city will consider using the park for farmers’ markets, yoga in the park, Christmas tree-lighting events and an ice-skating rink, Reichertz said, giving the city a downtown feel it hasn’t had.

The second phase will create 140 more residential units, which may include a “senior living component,” according to the plans. The last phase will add a three-story commercial office building.

Before construction can begin, one significant obstacle must be addressed: A sewer line under the Chase Bank building must be moved, at an estimated cost of $1.6 million.

Most of the current businesses in the triangular redevelopment area will be razed for Yahara Commons, including Chase Bank, Inland Boat Works, Global Presence Ministries and the Bridge Lounge. Monona State Bank, the Breakwater restaurant, and the Four Lakes Yacht Club will remain in the area.

The owner of the Bridge Lounge, Billy Noltner, said that when the city first approached him about the new development in 2014, he “wasn’t interested.” The bar has been on the site for over 50 years; he has owned it since 1980, and his father owned it since 1962.

But after spending a few more years in the space as the city searched for the right developer, he came to terms with the impending move.

“I knew this was going to eventually come true,” he said, adding that redevelopment would help generate tax revenue for the city, which he refers to as a “special place.”

“That’s a way we can keep the city vital,” he said.

Noltner, 62, said he plans to make repairs to other properties he owns, and perhaps manage a different bar in the future.

Monona is kicking in a $2 million tax-increment financing (TIF) grant at the end of the first phase of the project. The city also will pay $5.1 million in demolition costs and infrastructure improvements such as streets, the park and utility work.

Mayor Mary O’Connor is looking forward to a transformed, more “attractive” space — and the tax base that will eventually come with it after the TIF district expires in 2042.

“The only way we can have new developments is by developing current areas of the city that might be blighted, because we’re totally surrounded by Madison,” O’Connor said.

Yahara Commons is the largest project the city has worked with since Pier 37 on Monona Drive between West Broadway and the Beltline, O’Connor said. That project was developed nearly 20 years ago.

“We’re excited to see it finally coming to fruition,” O’Connor said.

It’s Galway’s second development in the area, following the 2015 completion of the property that currently houses Qdoba Mexican Grill and Mr. Brews Taphouse a few blocks east on West Broadway near Monona Drive.

Yahara Commons was initially pushed by former Mayor Bob Miller in 2012, said Reichertz. Miller had noticed that multiple properties in the area were for sale, and was looking for a way to “achieve the best use” of the space, given its location on the river.“We (had) the opportunity to create a commercial destination on the waterfront and open up public access on the water where there currently is none,” Reichertz said.

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Lexy Brodt is a local reporting intern for the Wisconsin State Journal.