Get ready, get set, develop
If market conditions prevail, ‘they could be lining up to buy’ Park East land
By David Niles, of SBT
As commissioner of the Milwaukee Department of City Development, Julie Penman regularly hears developers ask when land in the Park East freeway corridor will be ready for redevelopment.
"It’s the biggest question we hear," says Penman.
And it’s also a question that gives her great optimism that the corridor will become a vibrant part of downtown Milwaukee in the near future.
The answer to the question is next spring, at the earliest.
Before any redevelopment can occur, a series of public meetings will take place to review and adopt final drafts of the renewal and master plans for the 26-acre corridor on downtown’s north edge.
Those plans (available online at www.mkedcd.org/parkeast/index.html) will be the subject of a Thursday, Oct. 16, Redevelopment Authority public hearing. The city Plan Commission will take it up on Oct. 20, and the city Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee will have it on Oct. 28.
The plans will then go to the Milwaukee County Board on Oct. 30, and then to the city Common Council on Nov. 5.
"We’re hoping for approval by November or December," Penman said, noting the plan’s importance in setting the stage for development. "The renewal plan is really the regulatory plan for that area."
With a jumble of public and private landowners in the corridor, land swap discussions will also occur in October.
Most of former freeway is removed, with much of the concrete ground down for use as base material for restored streets and, Penman says, for use as a base for the upcoming extension of Canal Street in the Menomonee Valley — an extension that will help in the redevelopment of the valley and which will serve as a vital east-west route during reconstruction of the Marquette Interchange.
"It’s a great example of recycling," Penman said of the reuse of the concrete material.
The Knapp Street Bridge, which will connect Knapp Street on the east with McKinley Avenue on the west, should be ready by the end of the year.
And restoration of the original street grid, with some alterations made to eliminate angled intersections, is well under way.
Sixth Street between Juneau and McKinley avenues will be completely open in a few weeks, and work continues on restoring streets on the east side of the river, such as the extension of Ogden and Market streets through to Water Street. Other streetwork in that area is done.
"Already there is much better circulation of traffic in that area than we have had in many years," Penman observed. "It’s really great to see that."
But perhaps more important is the excitement she and others in the city and county are hearing about redevelopment of the land.
"With the freeway basically gone now, you can really see the opportunities in the corridor," she said. "Developers are excited."
Also hearing strong interest in the project is James Barry III of the James T. Barry Co. Barry, whose building on Edison Street is within the development corridor, has been involved in many of the redevelopment planning meetings.
That interest will express itself more clearly once the redevelopment plan approval process is completed in the next few months, he said.
"People are looking to see what’s going to happen," Barry said.
With the right conditions in place, Barry sees the Park East corridor as a prime development area.
"Given all that is going on downtown, there will be a multiplier effect on the value of that land," Barry predicted. "There will be people lining up to buy that land."
But he cautions that those lines won’t materialize if proposed social agenda regulations are imposed on redevelopment.
A coalition of church, community and labor groups has proposed such regulations as union-friendly building, use of locally-owned and operated contractors, hiring of people from specific ZIP codes, development of affordable housing and contributions to park maintenance in poor neighborhoods.
If such regulations are imposed, "that land will lie fallow for a long time," Barry said. "No one will do anything."
The additional burdens would effectively kill meaningful development in the corridor, he said, adding that his own company might also consider moving elsewhere.
The bridge and road development adjacent to the Barry building "almost requires us to develop a new office," Barry said, possibly in the redevelopment corridor. "Our plan is to stay downtown, unless their is an enormous burden that makes that unfeasible," he added, referring to the social agenda.
"Their goals are laudable," Barry said. "But the best way to achieve them is to go ahead and develop the land so economic opportunities can be realized."
Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker also lauds those goals, but believes a carrot approach is a better way to achieve them. And that’s part of his plan to use money from the sale of the county’s 16 acres in the corridor for an economic development fund.
His proposed county budget includes a framework for the fund, called the Community and Economic Development Fund. The fund would be "a catalyst that will enable businesses to develop and grow, communities to prosper, and the lives of all our citizens to be enriched," his plan reads.
Money from the sale of other county land would also go into the fund, which would become a revolving fund.
Walker’s fund idea is based on two principles: first, that proceeds from the sale of county land should not be used to help balance the county’s budget, and second, that the long-term interests of the county dictate that the sale proceeds continue to support economic development through a revolving fund.
"And the best time to get this going is when we have such a big chunk of land to sell," Walker said, referring to the Park East land.
An Oct. 16 job summit will focus on use of money the fund would have, including "creative alternatives to tying hands" with the proposed social agenda regulations, Walker said. "Instead of putting the burden on developers, maybe we can offer them a carrot approach if their intent is to create better-paying jobs."
The fund proposal "recognizes that there are areas where the market does not make available the resources required for sustainable development."
While the amount of money the sale of county land in the freeway corridor would raise is unknown, it would surely be a lot more than the $150,000 currently available in the county budget for the kind of development Walker envisions.
"The figure is the great unknown now," Walker said. "There may be environmental issues that would have to be cleaned up, but we would apply for state or federal funding to help with that."
Barry, who notes downtown land can sell for $45 to $55 per square foot, says the Park East corridor land value really won’t be determined until the first few parcels are sold. "But once this is completed, those values will go up significantly."
The corridor has several things going for it, developers say. It includes large tracts of land in a downtown that continues to gain vitality. Much of the land is along or near the Milwaukee River. And access to the freeway system remains through the McKinley Avenue connection to I-43.
Oct. 3, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee