Communities hope high-speed rail stations spur development

Now that the Obama administration has allocated $810 million in federal funds to create high-speed rail service between Milwaukee and Madison, the communities along the rail line are making plans for train stations, which could spur transit oriented real estate development opportunities.

In Milwaukee, the train will stop at the downtown Intermodal Station at 433 W. St. Paul Ave.

Current plans for the Madison station call for it to be located at the Dane County Regional Airport, but some are objecting to that site and the Madison station location has not been finalized.
The high speed rail plans also include stops in between Milwaukee and Madison in Brookfield, Oconomowoc and Watertown.
Officials in each community are hoping to reap economic benefits from the high-speed rail service.
A $15.6 million renovation project for the Intermodal Station was completed in 2007. The project expanded the Amtrak station and added Greyhound and other bus services. About 1 million train and bus passengers use the Intermodal Station each year.
The addition of high speed rail service to Madison, plus the proposed Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee (KRM) commuter rail service and the proposed downtown Milwaukee streetcar project all could create more traffic at the Intermodal Station.
City officials hope that increased traffic will result in more development around the Intermodal Station. There are several underdeveloped properties within walking distance of the Intermodal Station, including several vacant lots on St. Paul Avenue.
“We view (the area around the Intermodal Station) as a development opportunity and as an area that is susceptible to change,” said Richard “Rocky” Marcoux, commissioner of the Department of City Development. With the added traffic from high speed rail, the streetcar and KRM, “you set the stage for true transit oriented development,” he said.
The key site in the area is the U.S. Postal Service facility, located at 345 W. St. Paul Ave., next to the Intermodal Station. Marcoux called the Postal Service site an “800-pound gorilla.”
In 2008, the U.S. Postal Service announced plans to build an 820,000-square-foot mail distribution and processing center in Oak Creek, which would replace the distribution and processing operations at the downtown Milwaukee facility. However, those plans were put on hold during the Great Recession.
Nevertheless, city officials expect the Postal Service to eventually abandon the downtown facility. The Postal Service facility site’s location next to the Intermodal Station and along the Menomonee River could, and the site’s large size, could make it an attractive redevelopment opportunity, Marcoux said.
If the blighted Postal Service building was torn down the site, “could easily support two towers, if not a third,” Marcoux said.
The rail tracks to the Intermodal Station go through the Postal Service site, so any development would probably have to be built over the tracks.
City officials believe a large mixed use development with residential units, office space and retail space could eventually be built there, Marcoux said.
Other sites near the Intermodal Station that could be redeveloped include parcels owned by the Department of Transportation that are left over from the Marquette Interchange reconstruction, including the vacant lot northwest of North Fifth Street and St. Paul Avenue, across the street from the Intermodal Station.
DOT and city officials have been working on redevelopment plans for the DOT properties, Marcoux said. The DOT will eventually make the sites available to developers through a request for proposals (RFP) process.
The Brookfield train station would be built along the tracks near Brookfield Road in the Brookfield Village Area, the historic main street area of Brookfield. An economic analysis, based on state Department of Transportation ridership projections, estimates that property values near the station will rise by $30 million, said Dan Ertl, Brookfield director of community development. Projections show about 900 people will use the Brookfield station in 2020, he said.
“There are people in Brookfield, not very many but some, that commute to Chicago for work,” Ertl said. “They don’t go every day, but they go for a few days a week. They take the train.”
The Brookfield Village Area has attracted two recent apartment developments with retail space, including the Vino Cappuccino restaurant at 2848 N. Brookfield Road. A high-speed rail train station is expected to attract more multi-family housing development, retail space and a small amount of office space, Ertl said.
Oconomowoc officials have identified two possible sites for a train station: a site at Cross Street and Collins Street near the city’s historic train depot and a site at South Street and Church Street near the city’s public library.
Both sites are within a short walk of Lac La Belle, Fowler Lake and the city’s main downtown street, Wisconsin Avenue.
City officials expect multi-family housing to be the most likely development that would occur near the train station, said economic development director Bob Duffy. Some retail development could occur later if the train station attracts a good number of riders, he said.
“(High-speed rail) creates another opportunity to get people to our community to visit, or to live,” Duffy said. “There are obviously advantages to being on the line as a stop as opposed to having the train pass you by.”
The Watertown train station would be built at the current site of a Pick ‘n Save grocery store at 607 S. Church St. Roundy’s Supermarkets Inc. is building a new Pick ‘n Save store across the street to replace the existing store, which will be vacated.
The vacated site that will become the train station is about five blocks from Watertown’s downtown area. It will eventually be connected to the downtown area by a planned extension of the city’s riverwalk along the Rock River.
City officials expect the train station to attract multi-family development and commercial development, Mayor Ron Krueger said.
Because of its location roughly midway between Milwaukee and Madison, a lot of families in Watertown have one spouse that works in the Milwaukee area and another that works in the Madison area, Krueger said. Those families may be able to take advantage of the high speed rail service, he said.

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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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