Land is one of the few commodities that appreciates over time. Land located on a lake, river, creek, or seashore is an even more limited resource and continues to be a gold mine for development. Historically, urban waterfront property has been confined to industrial and commercial uses—shipping, paper production, mills, power plants, and the like. Most cities and small communities are now realizing that the waterfront they turned their back on for so many years can be the savior for the next economic boom.

Waterfront development takes a keen sense of the potential value balanced against potential development risks, such as complex soil conditions, contamination, and permitting challenges. Successful development often requires a technical approach that integrates site construction with the environmental conditions of the property. Significant cost savings and accelerated construction schedules are often achieved by incorporating environmental remediation with site improvements. For example, a new parking lot can act as an environmental cap, utility corridors can be positioned to avoid contamination, and building foundations can be designed to reduce contaminated soil management costs.

Even with these inherent risks, developers flock to waterfront sites. Cities across the Midwest are enticing developers by making the land available through growth planning and zoning, and evaluating and improving sites for potential development. Cities are tapping into numerous state and federal grant programs, tax increment financing, and bonding. Developers are looking for a site with known risks and known development costs to limit their risk. Cities are looking for developers who are willing to invest their own capital to improve the waterfront property, increase tax revenues, create employment, and enhance the community’s image.

Examples of successful development come in the form of residential complexes, commercial operations, and water-oriented business. The added value of waterfront views and access is measured by the premium price and high demand. Condominiums and residential development with associated marinas or dockage attract potential owners willing to pay the premium prices. Restaurants that can provide boat access and outdoor dining enhance their image. Even new businesses with waterfront views see success in recruiting employees and customers alike.

A key element to overall waterfront development is combining public access with planned development to entice the public to the waterfront. Parks, walkways along the shoreline, fishing platforms, and related areas give the public access people greatly appreciate. Development along the waterfront can have its challenges, but the economic reward of property improvement takes on new meaning when the water is involved. IBI