City develops a lakefront vision

The City of Oak Creek’s preliminary vision for the redevelopment of its lakefront is shaped largely by a report on the site that was done by the Urban Land Institute last year.

The report recommends that the southern half of the property be developed primarily with multi-family residential development and a small amount of retail development. The site could take advantage of the proposed Kenosha Racine Milwaukee (KRM) commuter rail service with a train station nearby, if the KRM project ever comes to fruition.

The cap from the Mitchell Interchange soil will contain the contamination and allow the property to be developed, as long as the buildings do not have basements. For that reason, a traditional suburban single-family home subdivision would not work there, according to

Doug Seymour, the city’s director of community development, said it would cost a lot more to remove contamination from the site to allow homes with basements to be built than to just cap the site with clean soil.

Instead, a mix of condominiums, apartments and townhouses will be more feasible, Seymour said.

The city’s vision for northern half of the 250-acre lakefront is for a modern office park, perhaps with water-related industries that want to be near Lake Michigan and could take advantage of the site’s proximity to the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District plant and the city’s water treatment plant.

However, the city needs to be flexible and should consider whatever proposals that the landowners and developers bring forward, according to Gary Billington, who leads up a citizens advisory committee for the redevelopment of Oak Creek’s lakefront.

The site could attract water-related businesses, but it might attract something else that is not foreseen, he said.

“It’s going to be driven by the end users,” Billington said. “It’s very hard to predict (what will be proposed), because of the economy. Preparation meets opportunity. If an opportunity presents itself, we need to grab it. You never know (what it will be).”

However, the city should be careful about what it approves on its lakefront, Billington said. High-rise condominiums that block the view of the lake or wind turbines would both be bad ideas, he said.

“(The lakefront is) a pretty valuable asset,” Billington said. “We don’t want to go willy nilly putting things down there that are good for the short term, but may not be good for the long term.”

The city also wants to maintain a strip of land along the lakefront for the 250-acre lakefront area that will remain undeveloped and will be open to the public, connecting to Bender Park on the south.

“We want to open the lakefront up to everybody,” Seymour said.

“There has to be a public access component,” Billington said. “It’s too valuable an asset not to allow the public to at least enjoy it.”

The city also would like to see Milwaukee County make improvements to Bender Park, which would also further enhance the area and help attract development. Currently Bender Park has few amenities other than a small marina and boat launch area.

“In 10 years, I’m hoping Bender Park is among the jewels of the Milwaukee County Park System,” Seymour said. “For a park of its size and location, I think there’s so much more that could be done to tie it back into the community.”

The next step is for city officials to create a more detailed redevelopment plan for the lakefront. The city recently hired Madison-based JJR to come up with detailed master plans for the lakefront area.

City officials want to engage the entire community in the lakefront planning effort, Seymour said.

“Public participation is going to be huge,” Seymour said. “This project, in order to be successful, needs to draw on the collective wisdom of everyone in the city.”

That is where the advisory group led by Billington comes in.

“The role of the group is to create that vision (for the lakefront),” Billington said.

The group currently has 17 members, including several representatives of the region’s business community. Billington said he wants to add more members to the group.

“My role is to make sure we have a diversity of input,” he said. “We need young (members). I don’t want a bunch of old people sitting around a table talking about what we’re going to do for the next generation. I want the next generation at the table.”

City officials believe development of the lakefront area could begin within two to three years, Seymour said. The lakefront area has a lot of potential and could become a special part of Oak Creek, he said.

“Obviously there’s a huge opportunity on the lakefront,” Seymour said. “The lakefront area is going to change, and it’s going to change for the better.”

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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