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Watertown council members adopt Sewall’s Island, Factory Square recommendations | Business

WATERTOWN — City Council members have endorsed a consultant’s conceptual plans to redevelop the mostly vacant Sewall’s Island and nearby Factory Square.

Council members on Monday night adopted plans consultant MKSK Studios, Ohio, put together that suggest a boutique hotel, homes along the Black River and hiking trails and green space on Sewall’s Island be pursued.

Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith pointed out the inch-thick report MKSK drew up is the consultant’s vision for the two areas on the northeast side of the city.

“It’s an outline,” he said. “Things could change. A lot depends on developers.”

In August, MKSK unveiled their ideas. The final report was recently completed.

Under the consultant’s vision, the “Revitalization and Redevelopment” of Sewall’s Island and Factory Square would include biking and hiking trails, scenic overlooks and 3.3 acres of parkland and a mixture of commercial projects.

Conceptual plans include a 35-unit boutique hotel, 120-square-feet of commercial space, 90 units of residential rental units, event space that could house a brewery and enough parking for 400 spaces.

Michael A. Lumbis, the city’s planning and community development director, said developing parkland would be pursued first and could “kick start” private redevelopment.

Senior city planner Jenn Voss said existing property owners could become interested in developing the commercial components of the project.

Funding could come from state and federal programs, or seeking state and federal tax credits to help pay for the redevelopment, according to the consultant.

To get to this point, a long-awaited $1.5 million environmental cleanup of Sewall’s Island was finally completed last year before any kind of development could proceed.

The city owns 18.6 acres of the 28.7-acre island property on the Black River, about 10 acres of which can be developed. About 5.6 acres of the island can be designated only for park development.

The city obtained the site through back taxes from Black Clawson, which closed its foundry in 1991. The massive complex was destroyed in a fire in 1999.

The Factory Square area of downtown contains a series of industrial buildings along the river, some commercial businesses and a small park, where the city once planned to create a dog park.

For years, it’s been a goal of city officials to spruce up the neighborhood. The Factory Square neighborhood was the hub of the city’s manufacturing district a century ago.

Last January, the consultants gathered with about 10 interested residents to get some of their ideas. Those in attendance envisioned hiking and biking trails and some green space.

The consultants planned to come back last March and June to discuss their findings, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic prevented them from returning. Instead, a public survey was completed.

They incorporated some of those ideas in their report.

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