Two years ago, Steven C. Stewart sold his company, Real Cap LLC, so he could focus more on his passion of real estate development and less on administrative aspects of owning a business.
Real Cap had four employees, and Stewart no longer wanted to handle personnel-related tasks. So, he formed a new company, Investors Equity, LLC. Stewart is the company’s only employee.
Today, Stewart’s new firm is involved in several mixed-use real estate projects in the Milwaukee area, and he is working on plans for another: a 35-acre mixed use development on the new, four-lane, Highway 120 bypass in Lake Geneva.
The Lake Geneva property hugs the east side of the new Highway 120 between Townline Road and Bloomfield Road. The site is less than two blocks from Lake Geneva Middle School and Badger High School.
Stewart’s development, still in the early planning stages, would include senior housing, townhouses, condominiums, retail space, office space and possibly a boutique hotel. The offices will be built above the retail spaces.
Preliminary plans include a town center area, modeled after central Lake Forest, Ill., with retailers on the ground floor and offices or residential units in the upper levels. The number of units and the amount of space devoted for each use is yet to be determined, Stewart said.
For the project, Stewart’s firm is partnering with Bluemound Development LLC, the development arm of Voss Jorgensen & Schueler Co., Inc. of Brookfield. The architect for the project is Zimmerman Design Group of Milwaukee.
"I’m so excited about it, I can’t even tell you," Stewart said. "Walworth County and Lake Geneva is going to be the highest growth area in the state of Wisconsin. I think the greatest amount of that growth will come from Illinois, without question."
The Geneva Lake Development Corp. acquired the property over the last five years, using profits from the sale of land in the city’s business park. The corporation hired PDI Inc. of Milwaukee to develop a concept plan for the property.
PDI reviewed six development proposals for the site and selected the proposal by Investors Equity and Voss Jorgensen & Schueler.
The project still must receive approval from the Lake Geneva Common Council before it can proceed.
Stewart said the Lake Geneva development is intended to serve full-time city residents and travelers passing through.
"It’s not set up to compete with downtown" businesses, which are bolstered by tourists, Stewart said.
Construction on the Lake Geneva project could begin next year. It would be the first development on the new bypass road, which was completed last year to enable motorists to travel from the south end of Lake Geneva to Highway 12 without driving through the middle of the city.
The new road also provides access to large amounts of undeveloped real estate.
Lake Geneva Mayor Sheldon Shepstone said the city has already heard from other developers who want to build on property along the new road. One developer proposed a 700-acre development with a golf course and senior citizen housing, but aldermen shot it down.
City offficials are expecting to continue to receive more development proposals on the new Highway 120, Shepstone said.
"The property that is within the city limits is an ideal spot for commercial development with residential behind that," he said. "We are working on a south side development program for anything south of Bloomfield Road."
The Lake Geneva project is the type of mixed-use development Stewart enjoys. He also is a partner in the New Berlin City Center development. Stewart is handling development of the 70,000 square feet of retail space, a 30,000 square-foot medical clinic and 20,000 square feet of office space for the mixed-use development at National Avenue and Coffee Road. The New Berlin project also will include a library and residential development.
Construction of the retail development and the library already is under way.
Stewart is partnering with Voss Jorgensen for the New Berlin clinic development, and construction is due to begin this fall.
"I’m a big proponent of mixed developments," Stewart said. "They combine the elements of residential, retail and office uses. They bring about all of the elements of living in one place. They provide a neighborhood. To me, it’s a better quality of life. We’ve become a jump-in-your-car-and-drive society. So many people don’t have a community feeling."
Stewart also is a partner with Schulz Development of New Berlin in the $24 million River Renaissance condominium development at the corner of Water Street and Erie Street on the Milwaukee River in the Historic Third Ward.
A parking lot is on the site now. The proposed seven-story building will have 17,500 square-feet of first floor retail space and 72 condos. Milwaukee’s Riverwalk will be extended in front of the property, and some boat slips will also be installed.
"I think this is the finest site remaining in the Third Ward," Stewart said. "I’m bullish on the Third Ward and downtown."
Stewart also is working with Voss Jorgensen to redevelop the former Parkland Mall property in Muskego. The plans include more than 100 condominiums and 70,000 square feet of retail space.
Those plans are still being negotiated with Muskego’s city officials, Stewart said. The developers are seeking assistance from tax incremental financing district funding.
Stewart is partnering with Voss Jorgensen on the Lake Geneva, New Berlin and Muskego projects.
"I think they do a good job of building," he said. "They are a large firm, well respected. I think it just adds credibility (to the projects)."
In addition, Stewart is working with A.N. Ansay and Associates of Port Washington on a proposed $24 million, 150 unit condominium development in Saukville.
Stewart said he prefers running a one-person company and forming partnerships with other firms to handle aspects of developments such as construction, engineering, architecture, legal services and accounting.
Stewart said the financial backing for his projects comes from a combination of investors, his personal investments and funding from his partners.
"My business is outsourcing and partnering," Stewart said. "That’s what I do. I work with investors and partner and build development teams with other firms. When you do that and (communities) look at the quality of the entire team I’ve built for that project, that gives us the strength of a large corporation. It gives me the freedom to be selective in the projects that I choose. You don’t have to be big to be a great developer."
June 11, 2004 Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI