Bringing a city’s vision to life
By Wendy Kinderman
That may be the best way to describe the impact of the City of Altoona’s River Prairie project.
This small northwest Wisconsin community (population 7,680) transformed what was a
largely undeveloped highway interchange area in 2014 to a bustling center of commerce
and recreation five years later. River Prairie is a new “front porch” for the City of Altoona,
providing new streets, utilities, and public spaces that have attracted extensive commercial
“It is a City-defining project,” said Josh Clements, Altoona’s city planner. “It’s also become a
notable destination in a region that has many great outdoor spaces.”
Designing a New Downtown
Like many small communities, Altoona has a lot of civic pride but a less-than-bustling
downtown. It has parks and public spaces, but most are defined by single uses. The train
tracks that bisect the community gave the school district its nickname – the Railroaders – but
also fragmented development.
Things began to change when the USH 53 bypass opened in 2006. That busy highway divided
four quadrants of undeveloped land from the bulk of the City. For years the City worked
to attract business to the four sectors. The southeast and northeast quadrants, the first to
be developed, attracted an outpatient surgical hospital, medical offices, and several other
businesses. A 240,000-square-foot Woodman’s Food Market went into the southwest
quadrant in 2015.
The City had a different vision for the 40-acre northwest quadrant, however. “What we really
wanted was a community within a community,” said Mayor Brendan Pratt. “We knew we
wanted to have a community that was all-inclusive, to have people that lived there, worked
there, had fun, and enjoyed themselves there.”