With the purchase of 72 acres of largely undeveloped land, the Village of Pleasant Prairie is in position to develop a downtown center that has existed only as a dream for decades.
Village officials for some time have looked at this chunk of land – covering both sides of Springbrook Road and extending from 39th Avenue to the east to just before 47th Avenue to the west – as the spot to create a proper downtown. They drew up ideas of what should be included in the development, and even brought on a developer to oversee things.
“It’s probably been the most-planned chunk of property in the village,” said Tom Shircel, assistant village administrator.
Rosemont, Illinois-based Land and Lakes Real Estate Development was originally tapped to oversee the development of the new downtown, referred to as Village Green Center. The company owned the land for about 12 years, but couldn’t get anything started, said Martin Hanley, president of Land and Lakes.
Hanley said when his group acquired the property, the development plans were in place and preliminary zoning was “basically set” for the project, but they didn’t have the financial backing.
“From our standpoint, it’s just hard to get started without incentives from the village,” Hanley said. “We needed assistance on the infrastructure going forward.”
After years of inactivity, the village decided to buy back the land and reignite planning efforts. It hired Nathan Thiel as village administrator in April, in no small part because of his desire to get things moving on the Village Green Center development once again.
Then in December, Pleasant Prairie closed on the purchase of the property from Land and Lakes for $3.7 million.
Thiel said all economic signs point to this being the right time to get things done on the project.
“With the economic uptick and … the expansions the village has seen, we’re feeling that we are in a much better market position and time and space to move this project forward,” he said.
The village has spoken with a number of developers about the ambitious project. Specifically, the Kenosha Area Business Alliance and the Kenosha County Planning and Development department led an initiative last year to introduce municipal leaders to multiple developers at the International Council of Shopping Centers trade show in Las Vegas, said Heather Wessling Grosz, vice president of economic development at KABA.
Beyond the village-owned land, more than 120 acres is available for development in the area, noted Wessling Grosz.
Community planning sessions are already underway, with the first meeting held Jan. 17.
Pleasant Prairie recently hired consultant Todd Streeter, principal of Lakeland, Minnesota-based Community Collaboration, to conduct the planning sessions. Streeter’s firm was chosen for the model it uses that aims to maximize the impact resident input has on projects, Thiel said. This method brings in residents right away, and creates a series of citizen committees to focus on a number of redevelopment recommendations, such as housing options, recreational amenities and environmentally-friendly solutions. These concepts would then be used to guide the plans drafted by planning firms the village hires.
“I use a process I developed which shifts the responsibility of creating ideas from the typical project contractor to the actual community,” Streeter said. “So, the planner doesn’t come in first, they come in later.”
Thiel said he hopes to see a formal request for proposals seeking a master developer issued this summer, with construction ideally kicking off in 2020.
Wessling Grosz said multiple developers have already expressed interest in serving as a master developer on the project. And Thiel said others have expressed interest in developing specific pieces.
Since the project is still in the early planning stages, there are no concrete plans of what the Village Green Center will feature. But the general goal is to have multifamily, commercial, recreational, and public and civic developments.
Shircel said another general objective is to create walkable neighborhoods that are busy seven days a week. He also envisions a mix of national chains and locally-owned shops.
Whatever comes of the planning sessions and eventual choice of developers, the time has finally come for this property to be transformed, Shircel said.
“The majority of (residents) want this,” he said. “That’s my feeling.”