Economic Development Corp. tries to attract retailers to Town of Sheboygan

A map of the Town of Sheboygan where I-43 intersects with Highway 42.

With record low unemployment and a potential housing crisis averted, the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corp. has shifted its focus to what residents perceive to be the region’s biggest weakness: a lack of retail.

The group has been working with Tupelo, Mississippi-based The Retail Coach since April to attract either a mixed-use development or an outlet mall to the area around I-43 and Highway 42 in the Town of Sheboygan (just northwest of the city of Sheboygan).

Vacant land along I-43 in the town of Sheboygan.
Vacant land along I-43 in the town of Sheboygan.

Sara Spicer, attraction marketing specialist with the EDC, said the town is committed to creating a tax incremental financing district or other financial incentives to get a retail development off the ground, once two retailers or two restaurants have signed on to a project.

“Ideally, one developer will come in with a plan, or us and the town will develop this with the shops that are interested,” Spicer said. “We already have a few retailers interested and we’re going to do whatever we can to get them here, whether we have a developer on the line or not.”

If the project is a mixed-use development, Spicer would like to see a hotel and several mid- to large-box retailers and fast casual restaurants. Another option would be to create a walkable community like Drexel Town Square in Oak Creek, with a live, work and play feel, Spicer said.

An outlet mall is another possibility. The region has two outlet malls, Johnson Creek Premium Outlets, centrally located between Milwaukee and Madison, and Pleasant Prairie Premium Outlets, located between Milwaukee and Chicago.

If Sheboygan were to attract an outlet mall, it would be the central point between Milwaukee and Green Bay, which Spicer believes would appeal to many visitors.

“We have a huge tourist population between the PGA, Ryder Cup (at Whistling Straits golf course in Kohler), Road America at Elkhart Lake and Blue Harbor,” Spicer said. “We want to make sure people have a place to eat and shop when they are here.”

Sheboygan does have its fair share of retailers, including Kohl’s, Hobby Lobby, T.J. Maxx, Dress Barn, Target and Walmart.

A map of the Town of Sheboygan where I-43 intersects with Highway 42.
A map of the Town of Sheboygan where I-43 intersects with Highway 42.

But the EDC has a long wish list for additional retailers that includes Babies“R”Us, a tween clothing store such as Justice, a DSW shoe store, Cabela’s and Trader Joe’s.

Retail real estate broker Don Zien, senior vice president of Colliers International Wisconsin, said if there is a significant enough retailer interested in locating in the Town of Sheboygan, a large mixed-use retail development could be possible.

“It’s going to come down, to some extent, as to whether there are the rooftops and leisure traffic to support it,” Zien said. “It’s a bit like Pabst Farms, where there has been hope for certain big-box and shopping developments but the demographics, and to some extent the zoning and interested users, didn’t allow it to happen—at least, not yet. There’s a reason IKEA didn’t go to Oconomowoc.”

The EDC has reached out to about 30 retailers based on suggestions from Retail Coach and has gotten interest from companies, Spicer said. Retail Coach representatives did not return phone calls.

The town and the economic development corporation have a 99-acre parcel of land they are targeting for this development. Spicer said they are still in negotiations with the seller, who is “pro-development,” and wants to be part of the growing community. She would not say where the parcel is located, but said it is visible from I- 43.

On July 28, the EDC will unveil its master plan to developers and real estate brokers.

“We want to show people what this development could look like,” Spicer said. “If someone wants a bigger building, or to move a parking lot, we can do that. But we have a vision for this.”

The initiative is taking place in the Town of Sheboygan because the infrastructure is already in place. The corridor has also had recent retail success with Menards, Walmart, Texas Roadhouse and Culver’s.

Construction will begin this summer on a 137,000-square-foot Sam’s Club that will open in a former Menards Self Storage Facility at the southeast corner of I-43 and County Road J in the town.

The retail push comes after the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corp. spent two years working on a plan to combat the county’s housing shortage. Based on a market study, Sheboygan can accommodate 300 new units each year for the next nine years.

Luxury Meadowland Villas Apartments, which are the first new apartments in Sheboygan County since 2009, recently opened. There is a less than 1 percent vacancy rate in the Sheboygan-area multifamily market.

There are more than 700 new market rate or luxury apartments scheduled to open within the next year.

Sheboygan County has been steadily creating 1,000 jobs per year, thanks to companies such as the Kohler Co., Sargento Foods Inc., Bemis Manufacturing Co. and Acuity Insurance.

The county can accommodate 300 units every year for the next decade, Spicer said.

There currently are three apartment developments underway in downtown Sheboygan, and Greenfield-based apartment developer Ener-Con Cos. is working on a market study to determine if it should develop the former Optenberg Iron Works property at 1403 and 1435 S. Seventh St., just south of Blue Harbor Resort, into multi-family housing.

“Now that the housing is all coming in, it’s time to move on to our next milestone, which is retail, and we won’t stop until we get what we want,” Spicer said. “That’s what the EDC is all about. We find ways to get this stuff done.”

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