Who Owns A Sunrise?

Who Owns A Sunrise?

Behind the building in the photo (above) is a beautiful sunrise coming up over wooded bluffs that rise from the banks of the Wisconsin River. A morning fog drifts along with the flow of the open water as waterfowl feed in the mist.  On a small island covered in brush and a few tall trees bald eagles roost in the high branches looking for food below as they warm themselves in the morning sun.

Sadly the most direct views of “Eagle Island” are blocked by vacant windows, “for lease” billboards and realty signs. I drive through the dark shadow of this building every morning and I can’t help wonder why the city famous for “Eagle Watching Days”, the Gateway to the Lower Wisconsin Riverway would allow such a development in the absolute best viewing access to its famous bald eagles? Seems counterintuitive to me.

Sauk City Historic Park

Sauk City Historic Park

A bit further down the same street in Sauk City you’ll come across an open area with a few historic buildings placed along the riverbank. This is a spot where I’ve walked and biked many times. It’s a great place to photograph geese and other waterfowl as well. It’s also one of the few iconic “manmade” views in the community. I’ve taken many photos of the historic schoolhouse surrounded in the many changing moods of the Wisconsin river which is easily visible in the background. There’s nothing quite like the view of nature and history sharing a sunrise.

Of course, there are many people who don’t see the value in open spaces. Not when there is a profit to be made in high rent offices, condos and the like (If you can fill them that is!). In Sauk City there is a plan moving forward to move these historic buildings once again and sell off the land to a developer. As you can imagine this means a lot of disagreement in the community and for good and obvious reasons.  When I was asked recently to share my thoughts, my gut feeling was, “This isn’t my fight.” Still, the one thing that keeps going through my mind is the thought that there is nothing new under the sun. In every polluted waterway and blighted riverfront in every city across america, in every one of those communities where people are now trying clean and rejuvenate.. it all started right here; A small community on the river making decisions about what to do with “valuable” waterfront real estate. Over and over again, city leaders went for the perception of fast money and created the blight that their grandchildren had to clean up later. The shortview nearly always trumping the long.

I can’t say what the right decision is in this case. There are too many variables. I don’t have enough information. What I can say is that I drive in the shadow of that dark, partially vacant office/condo every morning and it’s a cold, dark, depressing section of an otherwise enjoyable drive through a small, riverside town. I can easily imagine what will happen if it were allowed to be repeated over and over again.  Just take a drive through any urban center’s concrete canyons.

Maybe a little historic park, with a couple diminutive buildings, a park for everyone and a place for outdoor community events is a better option. Maybe it’s more valuable to the community right now, as is. Certainly a city that prides itself on its river, its history and its wildlife need to really think this one through. The last thing you want to do is too quickly sell off another slice of your beautiful, riverside sunrise. Once its gone, you’ll never get it back.

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  1. k. nolden

    You must not be from Prairie Du Sac but let me tell you how it was to live in that spot in 1960. Where that big building is you don’t like was a gas station with an ally and a house next to it. The ally between the house and station was full of oil drums and gas tanks. The oil drums had the ground between the two building black and ran over the bank to the railroad tracks. Next to the house was a three story feed mill, and then a few houses. A few years down the road the feed mill was tore down and a car lot was put in. One of the house’s were moved to I believe Washington street in Prairie another just down the street and were saved. I guess what I’m getting at is you never could see the sunrise as their was always a building and woods in the way. The village have cleaned the woods along the river that was their so you can see the view and done a good job for us. But no the person driving down water street could never see that view only the people who lived and worked their could. This never was an open space as you seem to want now, it was a place were people lived and worked it’s were I grew up.

  2. Gary

    I could not imagine, when it was going up, what they were thinking. Many communities have taken their old neighborhoods, industrial areas or whatever was along their river fronts, and gave up the need for some quick profit by some developer who offered some minimal compromise (like a trail behind their building) for true beauty and conservation. These are priceless areas that attract tourists, business, families and quality living.

  3. Lezlie

    Derrick, you are so right. Very observant article for not living in Sauk Prairie. When I drive past the 3 story business/condo building, I feel as though I’m passing through a dark tunnel. It’s so close to the road, and of course, blocks a view of Eagle Island and our beautiful river. Don’t get me wrong, I think the building is very pretty, it’s just in a bad location. As they say, if you build it, they will come. Or in this case, maybe not!

  4. Author

    Lezlie, I agree that the building looks fine. The location was bad AND water street is already full of abandon or at least, “un-leased” store fronts. Building more commercial and office space in an already saturated area is a suspect business move. One that certainly should cause concern to those watching this sale of the Historic Park site.

  5. Alice

    As someone whose home is Eagle Island View Condominiums, your comments are hurtful and offensive. They are also incorrect. The condo has twenty-seven residential units. All but one are occupied. And, of the four commercial units, only one remains vacant. This building is our home and our neighborhood. We come from all walks of life, are tax payers and bring consumer dollars into the community. I’ve heard from countless people that indeed what once rested on that site was an eye sore. When I am “in the shadow of that dark, partially vacant office/condo” as you call it, it means I am home, I am surrounded by lovely neighbors, it’s where my grandchildren come to visit, it’s where I cook my meals, and rest my head at night. And, I am thankful everyday for such a beautiful place to live!

    1. Author

      Alice. I certainly am not commenting on any of the residents within the property. Still, you have to admit that this building, and the general concept of development along the river is controversial and should be open to discussion. While not wishing to cause you “offence” personally, it’s also true that in our day we can not raise opinions or open discussions without someone feeling hurt and offended. At the same time, we should not, and can not let fear of offense silence discussions either. Censorship cannot trump civil public discussion. It’s a tough balancing act for sure. I do appreciate your comment and certainly see your point of view as well.

  6. Tim

    About 20 feet south of the building is Graff park. From there you can view all the buzzards, I mean eagles you care too. Darn tree huggers!

    1. Karen Nolden

      I know I posted earlier to this but it just seems funny, all the years and all the people who lived and worked in that spot its the people who moved in or go driving thru that complain. I’m not saying not to care but you need to think about the people who own or rent this building. The people who were trying to do something to improve this area, it may not be what you want but it is an improvement. Also with the clean up work the village did you have a really great park to view the river and eagles from enjoy that.

  7. LAA

    As a 4th generation native of PdS who is now living on Water Street, I agree that the Eagle Condominiums were a BIG mistake. The businesses have been in and out in a nano-second– the economy just doesn’t support much discretionary buying yet. In my humble opinion, the biggest problem with this building is the scale of it. It positively DWARFS everything else 🙁 I remember what was there before and agree that it wasn’t all that appealing, but to erect something so tall and overwhelming that it does block a significant amount of the view is a real tragedy. Perhaps if the building had not included a lower level for shops, the height wouldn’t have been as much of an issue, but as it currently stands, the enormity of it detracts just as much as the hodgepodge of buildings that were there before.

  8. Author

    Karen – For what it’s worth.. “People who moved in” represent the future growth of a community and those who “go driving thru” represent tourism $$ and future investment from outside businesses. So certainly these views are valid as well.

    LAA – Good points. Development isn’t the enemy. The issue is wise development that makes sense, not just those who stand to profit in the short term, but for the community as a whole over the long term.

  9. Dan

    Lived on Lake WI 15 years back up the road off HWY 78. Since then have moved to Chicago and Arkansas. I have fond memories of the area (of course, the wonderful Summers!). I like the idea of living “downtown”. I do recall not much “going on” in Prarie du Sac and Sauk City, but also find that equally attractive. I was surprised to find this development when reviewing the area. I am going to keep this development in mind for a future purchase back to the area. The developer did a wonderful job making a beautiful building. From my recollection as I drove through every morning in commute to Madison, the area needed some new development. “Sauk Prarie” was (still?) decaying away. Nothing has gone on there for decades. The design was held nicely to the area. Kudos. Change is constant. This was responsible change.

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