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Four Million Reasons for Reinvention

A Creative Vision for Our Community Renaissance

Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

To the surprise of local settlers, a much-anticipated railroad was rerouted in 1857 to cross above the towering sandstone dells of the Wisconsin River. Byron Kilbourn, the railroad’s owner, established Kilbourn City at the site of the new and massive steel bridge. Today, the original 150-year-old bridge remains. It serves as a gateway to the City of Wisconsin Dells, a name crafted to be more appealing to tourists who would make the Wisconsin Dells into the most popular vacation and resort destination in the Upper Midwest.

Eclectic, vibrant, and surrounded by stunning landforms, this city of 5,500 citizens hosts four million visitors annually. Always reinventing itself, the city again sought to polish its image for guests. The story of the Wisconsin Dells’ rugged lumber raftsmen and riverboat pilots is retold, alongside the stories of today’s photographers, artisans, and culinary creatives.

The Dells are reborn as the Dells River Arts District.


Project Goals:

  • Connect Reintroduce and revitalize the city’s relationship with the river.
  • Enhance Create opportunities and facilitate progress by enriching the destination.
  • Celebrate This history of the Wisconsin Dells and embrace the creative spirit.

Retelling a Familiar Story

The effort to turn a vision of revitalization into reality included generationally rooted Dells citizens, a dedicated City Council, and an enthusiastic Mayor. ZEBRADOG was retained to uncover the authentic Dells and revive the downtown as an all-season main street destination. ZEBRADOG began unpacking the Dells’ many assets—dusting off stories of this evocative landscape which has drawn out poetic reveries from every generation privileged to have encountered it. These stories blend to establish an original brand that reintroduces the Wisconsin River and its scenic delights to an entertainment district made vibrant with colorful banners and mosaics. Every element of placemaking, from serpentine outdoor café zones to a refreshed wayfinding sign program and digital app, references the River Arts story.

This is truly an original “place”


Kilbourm Bridge over the Wisconsin River
Artisan wood carving

Design Inspiration

A material and pattern language draws from what is unique to this center of summertime vacation memories. Infused with oblique oxidized steel trusses of the bridge, the timbers that once floated through the infamous Narrows, and the personalities of sandstone formations carved over the course of 15,000 years by the magnificent Wisconsin River, ZEBRADOG had plenty of environmental and emotional inspiration to craft a revitalized story.

Relief of the letter A, in leather
Tile mosaic of water
Dells of the Wisconsin River
New Wisconsin Dells logo

Brand Positioning

Legendary sandstone formations, crowned by majestic pines, are reflected in the Wisconsin River. Above it all, trains still rattle across the Kilbourn Bridge, marking the gateway to the Dells River Arts District. ZEBRADOG artfully captured the essence of these icons within a brandmark drawn with an artisanal style that is reverent to the past,while providing a foundation for the future development of an arts district.

Branded tree grate
Logo engraved in wood
Branded tote bag
Concept sketch of Wisconsin Dells logo: trees, rock forms, trestle bridge, water and reflections
Logo integration
ZEBRADOG CEO Mark Schmitz speaking at Wisconsin Dells City Council meeting, September 2015

Streetscape Design

Locations of enhancements along Broadway Ave

The Delicate Art of Placemaking

You know you've arrived at the Dells River Arts District as local artistic talents entertain and awe on the sidewalks between social café zones. Crowds gather at the new plaza for morning yoga, mid-afternoon magic acts, and as the sun begins to set, the dancing begins. The excitement of this street scene is enhanced with intuitive wayfinding, pops of public art, and vibrantly colored banners.

Concept sketch of café zone walls

Enhancing the Destination

Before: Entering the Dells via Wisconsin Highway 23
Concept design of reimagined WI-23 entrance
Rendering of 200 Block sign
Concept sketch of 100 Block sign
Rendering of café zone

Artful Café Zones

Shopping, competing at skill games, touring museums, and dressing up for old time photos takes a lot of energy. Café zones provide a quiet and comfortable place to take a break and recharge. You can experience the story of the Wisconsin River that flows through a mosaic course embedded in the stone walls protecting these spaces. The keystone of each Café Zone is a prime space designated for an artistic interpretation of “seating.”

Rendering of block banners

Intuitive Wayfinding

We know you can’t wait to get out of your car and join in the fun. That’s why ZEBRADOG put so much care into designing a future program, with easy to follow signed pathways to and from parking lots branded with rock formations. Broadway will be a breeze to navigate with block colors defined by banners, digital information kiosks, and a custom digital app in your pocket.

Concept of digital wayfinding kiosks
Concepts of branded signage: street signs, parking lots, pay stations
Screenshot of mobile application

Digital Wayfinding App

Armed with a smartphone and an intuitive ZEBRADOG designed and developed wayfinding app, future visitors will easily unlock reviews, promotions, calendars, and turn by turn directions to a refreshing drink at their favorite shaded sidewalk café. While relaxing and taking in the colors of the street, why not browse for tickets on a riverboat tour or study up on Dells history?


The Wisconsin Dells
Rendering of Riverwalk entrance

Welcome Back to the River

For too many years, Downtown Dells was missing a connection to its most important asset—the Wisconsin River. To reconnect visitors with the river, clear views from Broadway were reopened with the removal of a few key obstructions and a Riverwalk extended from Broadway to the farthest boundary of the River Arts District where a new park was planned. The journey back to the river begins at the Riverwalk Gateway. ZEBRADOG conceptualized a bridge shaded by a carefully crafted, perforated trellis and glowing with glass mosaics. Further development removed the need for the trellis, but created an opportunity to highlight a piece of Dells history in the form of an anchor just waiting to tell its stories.

The Stories Within Us

Used to float logs to sawmills, ferry passengers on riverboats, and harness electrical power, the river and its tree-lined sandstone bluffs is the original Wisconsin Dells attraction. The new Riverwalk invites Dells visitors down to the water’s edge along a meandering wooded path. Nested into natural vignettes along the way, interpretive exhibits tell the key stories of the Dells with hand-colored photography built into elegantly crafted columns. No detail was too small, each vignette features art and materials from the stories themselves.

ZEBRADOG is excited to continue to be a part of the on-going revitalization of the Downtown Dells. There are plenty of stories to tell. Come see for yourself.

Restored photograph of folks in a canoe on the Wisconsin River
Restored photograph of folks on cliffs above the Wisconsin River
Rendering of Kilbourn City vignette
Restored photograph of the Kilbourn train station
Vignette celebrating the Ho-Chunk people
Vignette of the Kilbourn Dam
Riverwalk Map
Book titled "Dells Riverwalk Stroll"