Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 12:04 pm
If the City of Kenosha had its way, a now-vacant site in its downtown would soon be home to its latest significant residential development – something that officials say is needed to continue to build up the area.
At the beginning of May, the city issued a request for proposals for the construction of a new multi-family development at the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, just a block away from the lakefront. The city would like to see construction begin next year.
Zohrab Khaligian, Kenosha community development specialist, said the RFP represents the latest example of the city taking an active role to help reshape its downtown.
These initiatives started to ramp up in 2016, when Mayor John Antaramian was elected, Khaligian said. The mayor returned to office after retiring in 2008, at which time the city had identified a number of problem properties in the downtown area.
Many of those blighted properties still were in 2016, so Antaramian vowed to have the city actively invest in them, Khaligian said.
If something is redeveloped at the site identified in the RFP, it would join other multi-family offerings such as the 5th Avenue Lofts, which is immediately north of the redevelopment site. The 104-unit apartment complex finished up about two years ago, said S.R. Mills, chief executive officer of Kenosha-based Bear Development LLC, the developer on the project.
Reaching further back, Khaligian pointed to HarborPark, the former American Motors Corp. location that has since been cleaned up by the city and now includes the Kenosha Public Museum, the Civil War Museum, an electric streetcar system, Kenosha HarborMarket and a mix of townhomes, condos and apartments.
The city acquired that site in 1994 and around 2000 began putting in the necessary infrastructure, Khaligian said.
“That was a big shot in the arm for downtown because the biggest thing that was missing was there weren’t enough rooftops in the downtown … to provide (demand) for commercial and retail uses,” he said.
Mills said downtown Kenosha still needs more residential in order to be strengthened.
“I think when we look at successful downtown revitalization efforts, usually everybody wants retail and more restaurants and shops, but the cornerstone of that (revitalization) typically is more rooftops,” he said.
Mills said his firm selected the site for 5th Avenue Lofts because it represented the largest possible impact for downtown.
“There were other pad-ready sites that would have worked as well, but this site also presented a pretty big negative as it was a … functionally obsolete industrial building that wasn’t being used,” he said.
Of course, downtown Kenosha has other recent developments going for it beyond residential. Heather Wessling Grosz, president of Downtown Kenosha Inc. and vice president of economic development at the Kenosha Area Business Alliance, pointed to the Stella Hotel & Ballroom. The hotel and event location is in the transformed former Heritage House Inn and Elks Club building at the southwest corner of Eighth Avenue and 57th Street.
“That (project) I think definitely is a catalyst,” she said.
Altogether, over the past few years there has been between $40 million and $50 million in investment in downtown Kenosha, Wessling Grosz said. This includes the Stella hotel project, investments by small businesses, and municipal projects such as widening sidewalks and rebuilding streets.
The city also has other properties that still need redevelopment. Two significant examples are the Alford and Barden’s buildings, both large former department stores. Khaligian said so far the Barden’s building has had some traction, with the first floor being used by a craft brewery to expand and the second being used as a banquet facility.
The Alford building, however, presents challenges. For one, it is in worse condition than the Barden’s building. Its interior layout is challenging, too, in that the middle floor of what appears to be a three-story building from the outside is actually a mezzanine, Khaligian said.
Large former department store spaces aside, downtown Kenosha is doing well with retail. Alexandria Robinson, Downtown Kenosha Inc. executive director, said the small boutique storefronts in the area are filled. Further, the group’s façade grant program has enough interest that applicants are being turned away.
The annual State of the Downtown event was held in mid-May, highlighting all the work and accomplishments happening in downtown Kenosha.
Perhaps next year, attendees will be talking about a new residential development going up near the lakefront.