Seven years after the Delphi plant in Oak Creek closed and five years after that plant was demolished, the puzzle pieces are coming together for the mixed-use Drexel Town Square development project on the 85-acre site the plant once occupied southwest of Drexel and Howell avenues.
City officials have worked for years with a development team led by Wispark LLC to create a mixed-use development at the site that would form a downtown for a community that has never had one.
Now, some parts of the project are opening, others have made significant progress and still others have started construction recently.
“We’re very happy with the way it’s coming together,” said Doug Seymour, director of community development for Oak Creek. “There was a lot of upfront planning. It is a very complicated project. Complicated projects take time.”
The eastern half of the project is more of a typical suburban style development and will be anchored by a big box store and surrounded by smaller retail and restaurant buildings. The western half of the project is designed to be more of a traditional downtown with a mixed-use Main Street, a town square park, a hotel, a new City Hall and library building, and luxury apartment buildings. A 192,000-square-foot Meijer store is the anchor of the eastern half of the project. Its inclusion in the project was criticized by those who only wanted to see smaller, unique retailers, but the store is expected to generate a large amount of traffic that will benefit other tenants in Drexel Town Square.
In addition to the Meijer store, the Water Street Brewery brewpub and restaurant located right at the corner of Howell and Drexel opened recently. A Panda Express restaurant is also open at Drexel Town Square. Those initial openings are giving Oak Creek residents a chance to check out Drexel Town Square for the first time, Seymour said. “People have a chance to get in there now, to see it and feel it,” he said. “They can see how transformative the project is going to be.”
The opening of Water Street Brewery, which also has locations in downtown Milwaukee, Grafton and Delafield, brings a southeastern Wisconsin favorite to the Drexel Town Square project. Construction will begin soon for the first two buildings on the Main Street portion of the project, which will also include a popular local restaurant. A 4,800-square-foot BelAir Cantina will be located in one of the mixed-use Main Street buildings, and will have a large patio facing the town square park. BelAir Cantina, a Mexican restaurant, currently has two locations in Milwaukee and one in Wauwatosa. “(BelAir Cantina’s) price point is terrific. Their food is terrific. It’s casual, fun, family-friendly,” said Blair Williams of WiRED Properties, who is developing the Main Street portion of Drexel Town Square with Sean Phelan of Phelan Development. “It’s a very good fit for any neighborhood, but we especially think it will work with what we are trying to do in Oak Creek and it complements Water Street Brewery.” Other Main Street tenants announced by Williams include: a Chocolate Factory restaurant, a Performance Running Outfitters store and a ForwardDental clinic. Leases are pending for additional tenants in the Main Street area, he said. “We feel really good about the mix we are creating (on the Drexel Town Square Main Street),” Williams said. “The tenants we’ve targeted, we’ve nailed.” Meanwhile, construction is well underway for the first phase of a three-phase, 510-unit luxury apartment development by Barrett Lo Visionary Development. That portion of the project, called Emerald Low Apartments, will be located between the town square park and the City Hall/library building and a 17-acre wetland park with walking trails. Construction is “flying on Emerald Row right now,” said Rick Barrett, owner of Barrett Lo Visionary Development. The first phase of the Emerald Row project will have 167 units in four connected buildings. Barrett expects the project to rapidly progress into its second and third phases. “There is a lot of interest in our apartments out there,” he said. “I think it’s going to get filled up pretty quick.” The City Hall/library building is expected to be complete in mid-October, Seymour said. Much of the town square park is expected to be complete this fall as well, he said. Construction of a 108-room Four Points by Sheraton hotel, which will be just east of the town square, was held up by financing issues and the developer preferred to start later anyway, Seymour said. “They didn’t want to open a hotel in the middle of a construction site,” he said. “There are a few loose ends to tie up (on financing for the hotel), but as far as we know everything is okay with the deal.” Other components of the Drexel Town Square site will include a Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health care facility, a Chick-fil-A restaurant, a U.S. Bank branch and a small multi-tenant retail building anchored by a PetSmart store. “As a whole we’re very pleased with the progress of Drexel Town Square,” Seymour said. “We’re getting some good feedback (from residents).”