Big-box retailers gush over I-94 corridor

    Kenosha County saw an increase in building last year, but mostly in residential development, according to municipal data analyzed by the Kenosha Area Building Alliance (KABA).
    Based on building permit data, the total value of new construction permits issued in Kenosha County in 2003 exceeded $229 million, compared with $206 million in 2002.
    While the 2003 total was less than that of 2001, "it is clear the market remains strong," said John Bechler of KABA.
    The value represented by multi-family housing permits more than doubled from 2002. Single-family housing permits dropped in 2003 from 751 to 745, but the value increased from $119 million to $134 million.
    Municipalities in the county issued eight permits for new industrial construction last year, compared with two in 2002 and 10 in 2001.
    Commercial building permit numbers went from 60 in 2002 to 39 last year.
    However, more commercial development should be on the horizon, says Ray Forgianni of the City of Kenosha.
    "We’ve seen a shift in the market," Forgianni said, noting the past year saw a strong single-family housing market in the area but little major retail action.
    "Retail is heating up, with the big-box retailers showing interest," he said. Gander Mountain recently presented plans to the city’s planning committee for a flagship store near the Highway 50 and I-94 intersection. Several Wal-Marts are in the plans, and Lowe’s is working on a site at Southport Plaza at highways 31 and 50 for a home-improvement store.
    "Retail will come back. The national retailers are getting ready for the recovery and want to be in place for the next boom," Forgianni says of the big-box retailers.
    A focus remains on the downtown and lakefront, where redevelopment continues after the creation of the 69-acre HarborPark residential district on the lake. That development has bolstered the fortunes of downtown businesses and has been a catalyst for activity there, Forgianni says. That activity includes upgrades to four buildings by the Lakeshore Business Improvement District.
    Elsewhere, development eyes remain on Pleasant Prairie, where the massive VK Development project continues along Highway 50 on the northwest side of the village. The owners of Ventura Fine Jewelers in the Prairie Ridge Marketplace announced plans to build a 300,000- to 350,000-square-foot retail center in the Prairie Ridge development, with an anchor tenant and smaller retailers.
    Pleasant Prairie also saw expansion of the S.C. Johnson & Son distribution facility in the LakeView Corporate Park. The project involves expansion of the two-year-old, 603,600-square-foot building to 891,600 square feet.
    CalEast Industrial Investors, a joint venture between the California Public Employees Retirement System, known as CalPERS, and LaSalle Investment Management, bought the SuperValu Midwest Region Distribution Center at the end of the year from Wispark and Towne Realty, which acquired a 75% interest in the building in 2002.
    The major development story in the making, however, is the renewed proposal to convert the Dairyland Greyhound Park into a gambling casino operated by the Menomonee Nation of Wisconsin. Officials of the northern Wisconsin tribe say such a casino could generate up to 6,000 jobs and $500 million in annual economic impact, with up to $450 million a year being generated by the casino itself.
    The tribe has proposed purchasing the dog track complex just off I-94 at Highway 158 for $40.5 million from its current Alabama owners. It would continue to operate the greyhound park but, along with the casino, add a hotel, an entertainment center, a convention complex, an indoor water park and restaurants.
    Sitting in the way of the project, however, is the Wisconsin Supreme Court case challenging the existence of the broad Indian gaming operations in Wisconsin, and the need to have the land placed in trust for the tribes by the U.S. government.
    The state Supreme Court is expected to rule by this summer on the legality of the gaming compacts.

    Feb. 6, 2004 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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