Oak Creek mayor keeps retail bar high at Delphi site

Retail developers are expressing significant interest in the former Delphi site in Oak Creek, according to newly elected Mayor Steve Scaffidi. However, the retailers that are being pitched for the site don’t match the city’s vision for the project, called Drexel Town Square.

Oak Creek, which is partnering with Wispark LLC on the Delphi site redevelopment, wants to create a new downtown at the site, for a community that has never had one. The plan includes space for smaller, unique retail stores. But so far, that’s not the type of retail development that is being proposed for the site.

The stores that have been proposed so far are chain stores similar to stores that are already in Oak Creek, said Scaffidi, who declined to name the specific retailers that have been proposed.

“I’m not interested in filling the site up with something (similar to what) we already have up and down Howell Avenue,” he said. “It’s got to be a destination place that isn’t offered in other places. I’m going to hold out for that. I understand that makes the project more challenging.”

The 85-acre former Delphi plant site is located southwest of Howell Avenue and Drexel Avenue in Oak Creek.

Earlier this year, city and Wispark officials announced the development plans for the site. The eastern third of the site will feature junior box retail stores (about 20,000 to 40,000 square feet each) and some outlot retail development. The middle third of the site will have a “Main Street” lined with multi-story buildings with retail on the ground floor and apartments on the upper floors. A Town Square on the Main Street is expected to be a gathering place and could be used for ice skating in the winter and farmers markets in warmer months. The Main Street area will also be the site of the city’s new library and City Hall. The western third of the site will have apartment buildings similar to those in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward.

The entire development consists of 880,000 square feet of space, including 255,000 square feet of retail space, 70,000 square feet of civic space (for the library and City Hall) and 555,000 square feet of residential space.

Interest in the residential component of Drexel Town Square is strong, and Scaffidi expressed confidence that the apartments will attract tenants. City officials have interviewed about six multi-family housing developers that have expressed an interest in building the residential component of the development and plan to select one soon.

“We have had a strong interest in the residential aspects from numerous developers,” said Scaffidi, who declined to name the developers. “Those will be unique residential units. Residential is the easy part of it. We’ll have no problem filling those things.”

Robert Monnat, chief operating officer for Milwaukee-based multi-family housing developer Mandel Group Inc., said the Drexel Town Square project is a good move by Oak Creek and will help it attract an increasing number of residents that want to live in dense, walkable, mixed-use environments.

“They’re working to reinvent the climate of Oak Creek and provide a whole different sort of lifestyle that isn’t currently available there,” Monnat said. “This is a great idea. If you don’t take this step to bring about change, (Oak Creek) will probably never be anything other than what it is today. If (Oak Creek) wants to remain relevant, it has to do things that might seem kind of forced, but 10 years from now people will say, ‘Of course that’s what they should have done.’ I think it will be successful.”

The market in Oak Creek should “easily” be able to absorb 300 apartments, Monnat said.

“There’s a huge percentage of non-traditional households that fit into an apartment community,” he said. “And there’s always going to be a percentage of people that want to stay in Oak Creek (but not own a home) for whatever reason.”

The former Delphi site also is attractive to retailers, especially because of the addition of the freeway interchange that is under construction  at Interstate 94 and Drexel Avenue, said Peter Glaser, a first vice president for CBRE’s Milwaukee office.

“I like the intersection of Drexel and Howell,” Glaser said. “I really like it because of what’s going to happen with the Drexel interchange. It really increases the accessibility of that area. You have the ability to draw (shoppers) from Oak Creek, South Milwaukee, Cudahy, Franklin and part of Greenfield.”

However, the project is so far getting only “lukewarm” interest from the types of unique retailers that the city hopes to attract to the site, Scaffidi said. Still, city officials are committed to fulfilling the community’s vision of attracting retailers that will help make the project a destination with unique character. The investments made by the city in the project, including the plans for the new library and City Hall, would not be worthwhile if it did not help create a unique development, he said.

“I’m not saying it’s easy,” Scaffidi said. “But it would serve no purpose to duplicate what we already have. We’re excited about the project. I don’t want to settle.”

City officials are also hoping the project will attract up to eight restaurants, with a variety of offerings ranging from fine dining to casual dining, Scaffidi said. Several residents have expressed a desire for a brew pub in the project, he said.

“I’d (also) like to see some higher-end stores,” Scaffidi said. “We fight the perception on the south side of not having enough affluence to support things like that. I’d say that’s ridiculous.”

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