Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:40 pm
When John Antaramian was first elected mayor of Kenosha in 1992, the city had several brownfields. The biggest eyesore in town was a 70-acre property in downtown Kenosha along Lake Michigan. The massive manufacturing complex on the site was vacated in 1988 when Chrysler Corp. ceased operations there.
“It was all rubble, broken concrete. You could stand in the middle of the site and could not see the lake, but it’s surrounded by water,” Antaramian said. “It was a horrible-looking site, rubble all over the place.”
In 1994, the city acquired the former Chrysler property and re-named it Harbor Park. The city spent about $18.5 million to clean up the property and another $7 million to move its natural history museum there. Then Skokie, Ill.-based New England Builders Inc. built about 400 condominiums and townhouses on the property.
About 30 of the 70 acres of the Harbor Park site will be developed, and the rest is for the museum and park land.
“It looks good and is generating a value of over $100 million now and probably will have a $140 million value when construction is totally finished three years from now,” Antaramian said.
Because of his commitment to attracting development to Kenosha, Antaramian has been named this year’s recipient of the Robert B. Bell Sr. Best Public Partner Award.
Antaramian serves as the president of the Wisconsin Chapter of the National Brownfield Association. He also is a member of the Brownfields Study Group for the state, which was launched in the early 90s as a result of efforts by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to examine the challenges of brownfield redevelopment.
“The laws in the state were not necessarily conducive for redeveloping brownfield sites,” Antaramian said. “This group works to change state law and regulations in order for redevelopment to occur.”
Other brownfield redevelopments that are occurring in Kenosha under Antaramian’s watch include the redevelopment of the 30-acre former American Brass site.
The American Brass site was owned by Finland-based Outokumpu Cooper, which closed the plant on the property in 2000. The city negotiated with Outokumpu Cooper and British Petroleum, which had acquired the company that sold the property to Outokumpu. The city and the companies agreed to split the demolition and cleanup costs for the property.
Developers have built a Pick ‘n Save grocery store on the site, where additional retail and residential development is under construction.
Antaramian is this year’s winner of the Robert B. Bell Sr. Best Public Partner Award because he has been an advocate for commercial real estate development in his city.
The award salutes governmental officials who help the private sector achieve commercial real estate development that improves the quality of life in the community. The award is given annually by advisors of the Marquette University’s Robert B. Bell Sr. Chair in Real Estate.
“The public sector is always a partner in the real estate development process, be it through the municipal approval process prior to development, obtaining the certificate of occupancy at project completion, real estate tax levies after development, or through a more active partnership in the financing and visioning of a site. Many times, visionary public leadership is questioned at the ballot box or scorned for how it changes the existing landscape,” said Mark Eppli, Ph.D., professor and the chair of the Bell program.
Antaramian received his award at the Small Business Times Commercial Real Estate & Development Conference on Nov. 9 at the Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee.
“Mayor Antaramian has been a leader in brownfield redevelopment, where his open involvement of the public with the redevelopment of the Harbor Park area met with near unanimous consent,” Eppli said. “Instead of eschewing the public and the press in obtaining the approval of the public, Antaramian taped all public meetings and placed them on cable access television and embraced public input. With the vision of Mayor Antaramian, the city spent $18.5 million on the cleanup and infrastructure for Harbor Park, and it is now worth more than $50 million, on its way to a completely built-out value of $80 million to $100 million.”
A lifelong resident of Kenosha, Antaramian graduated from Kenosha Tremper High School and earned bachelor of science degrees in economics and business management at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.
He was an assistant manager for the Walgreen’s Corp. from 1978 to 1982, when he entered politics and was elected state representative of the 65th Assembly District. He served five two-year terms in the Assembly, where he served on several key committees, and he also served as a member of the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Authority.
Previous winners of the Robert B. Bell Sr. Best Public Partner Award have included: Gordon Kacala, executive director of the Racine County Economic Development Corp. (RCEDC); Richard Maslowski, Glendale’s city administrator; and West Milwaukee Village President Ronald Hayward and Village Administrator Tim Freitag.
The award is named after the late Robert B. Bell Sr., who was a significant developer of commercial real estate in northern Illinois.