Downtown Racine, western villages sharing in business development
Development patterns in the eastern portion of Racine County are affected by a sewer moratorium while the City of Racine and its neighbors hammer out an agreement on cost sharing for a wastewater treatment plant expansion.
Negotiations between the city and the Town of Mount Pleasant have hit an impasse, extending a hold on new connections to the metropolitan sanitary sewer system, which is currently at capacity. The deal would also encompass the Town of Caledonia and the Village of Sturtevant.
Despite that fly in the ointment, commercial and industrial development activity has been relatively brisk in the eastern portion of the county and is accelerating in the more rural setting west of I-94.
"Racine’s downtown is seeing significant growth with the new Johnson Bank Building and a new M&I banking center. We continue to work on projects where we expect to see continuous growth as a result of the involvement of Racine Downtown along with our own organization," said Gordie Kacala of Racine County Economic Development Corp. (RCEDC).
Growth in the retail and service sectors have been strong, Kacala said. "As you make your way west of highways 31 and 20 near the Kohl’s and Jewel-Osco, you see a lot of outlot development around the Regency Mall."
The sewer moratorium would have minimal impact on retail and office development, as they are not major dischargers of wastewater.
"I don’t think it’s going to affect retail service development," he said. "We will see a long-term effect on industry because there is the need to develop new industrial parklands."
Moratorium not immediate problem
Although the debate over the wastewater treatment plant expansion has been going on for more than four years, Kacala said the immediate prognosis is not all that bad.
"For the next five years, we can continue to have an adequate supply of sewered lots within the city of Racine," Kacala said. "Outside of a four- to five-year timeframe, however, we will not. In context with the fact that we are seeing a national economic slowdown that will affect manufacturing, I don’t know what kind of manufacturing growth we will see in the next year regardless of a sewer moratorium."
Activity in The Renaissance, a 400-acre business park in Sturtevant, has been slowed as issues regarding a potential power plant in the development were addressed. Park tenant Golden Book’s option on additional property expired recently as well, opening up that land for additional industries.
The Washington Avenue Business Park has seen a recent sale of 30 acres, leaving two 20-acre sites remaining.
The sewer moratorium is also affecting on the Caledonia Business Park. The park is owned by Majestic North Development, Inc., a joint entity of Nielsen Building Systems and Ray Leffler of Newport Realty.
"We do have recent sales of 2.5 acres and pending sales of 16.5 acres, leaving us with about 15 available acres with sewer," Bruce Nielsen of Nielson Building said. "Until the moratorium is resolved, we’re in trouble. We have all kinds of acreage available, up to 430 acres, assuming we get sewer to it. We currently have Unico, Midland Container, Badger Electronics, AW Company, Mamco and Toledo Scale, which is leaving in March, Pavetech, Quick Cable, Rite Engineering and Drewco. The development is aimed at machine shops, warehouses, light manufacturing – anything that fits into M2 zoning."
Leffler said the Caledonia park is a good choice for smaller businesses as "our protective covenants are much looser than The Renaissance and Lakeview."
As the moratorium is resolved, the potential size of park extends from Dunklow Road to 4 Mile Road. "Obviously, we won’t be purchasing any more until the sewer moratorium is over with," Nielsen said. "We do have real access to 50 acres we don’t own, but don’t have sewer to it. We also have 14 acres in the Nordic Business Park at 6 Mile Road and Highway 31. It’s zoned M2 like the Caledonia Park."
Further west, Poclain Hydraulics recently bought the building vacated by Greene Manufacturing in the Town of Yorkville’s Grandview Business Park.
In Union Grove, development activity is being focused on a newly formed TIF district on the northwest side of town. Formation of the new TIF was fast-tracked. "It usually takes five to six months to put a TIF into place," Bursek said. "We did it in 59 days."
A key concern was that proposed revisions to the rules governing TIFs would not allow the village to include recently annexed land from the Town of Yorkville in the TIF district.
The TIF encompasses a 33-acre annex to the village’s existing industrial park, along with blighted areas, in an attempt to put them back to their best use. Blighted areas include a former Stokely canning facility site. The sauerkraut factory burned down in 1987 and, according to Bursek, the site presents mild environmental concerns.
"The TIF funding, along with a brownfields development grant, should make development more attractive," Bursek said, adding that location would be a primary selling point for land in the TIF.
"Location is No. 1," Bursek said. "Union Grove is ideally located relatively close to I-94, and is centrally located between the Milwaukee, Kenosha, Racine and Chicago markets."
Protective covenants would be loose enough to attract smaller companies, including the construction, warehousing and electrical supply businesses Bursek feels are ideal for the sites.
"In the industrial park annex, covenants are fairly restrictive, and cover outdoor storage and landscaping, masonry facing the street. Covenants are less stringent for the Stokely property," Bursek said.
Companies interested in locating in the TIF include Coleman Tool & Manufacturing, a short-run machining company with locations in Bristol, Somers and Kenosha. The company would build a $3.2 million facility and employ 120, according to Bursek. A yet unnamed company has expressed interest in 20 acres west of the Stokely property, and Bursek said that should they come on board, they would provide 200-500 jobs within five years.
Burlington redeveloping riverfront
The big development news in Burlington is obviously the riverfront redevelopment project. The project will ease traffic stoppages at the city’s rail crossings and create a recreational corridor along the river.
"Burlington has nearly completed the acquisition phase of the downtown redevelopment project," Kacala said. "We also expect to see a lot going on with the downtown and Highway 36 corridor."
"The riverfront project will have a tremendous positive benefit on our downtown businesses," City of Burlington administrator David Torgler said. "The project includes a four-lane railroad overpass, a new riverfront park, a bike/pedestrian path, downtown parking improvements, a pedestrian link to the new Burlington Area High School, a new 188-unit apartment building, and aesthetic improvements to our downtown. The railroad overpass will allow for traffic to move expeditiously through our downtown. With so much of the traffic in our city merely passing through, the overpass will eliminate the need to wait for a train. By allowing for an easier path through our city for the commuter traffic, our downtown streets will be more accessible to the consumers looking to get to one of our downtown businesses.
"The upgraded amenities will provide people working in or visiting our downtown with a new place to go. We intend to promote the use of this space for the enjoyment of our residents, businesses and visitors. The new bike path will link up with the existing bike path leading east along Highway 36 to Waterford, eventually linking directly to that village, and will hopefully one day link the city to Elkhorn."
The redevelopment push is coming at a real cost to the city, according to Torgler.
"The city continues to update its infrastructure to meet the growing area demands for service," Torgler said. "This year we improved more then $1.4 million dollars worth of roads, and we adopted a five-year street improvement program to ensure that we are able to keep up with our streets. We are also replacing thousands of linear feet of water and sanitary sewer lines along our riverfront project area. Many of our trunk lines run through this area and were in need of upsizing and updating.
"The city also has formed an economic development committee to work with the RCEDC, the Workforce Development program, Polacheck, and local businesses to address service needs, growing businesses’ needs and new business needs. We intend to be pro-active and work with our local businesses to create an environment that is business-friendly, while at the same time maintaining our ‘rural’ characteristics that make the city of Burlington attractive to residents."
According to Jenny Trick, senior economic development manager with the RCEDC, planned commercial uses for some riverfront properties cannot yet be announced, including a site vacated by Highlighter Graphics.
"The proposed use of the Hi-Liter building has not been confirmed," Trick said. "There is a commercial development proposed at that site. A lot of the parcels along the riverfront have been identified as redevelopment opportunities. When you have redevelopment in a certain area of the community, there is a trickle-down effect. Real estate developers see that there are great things going on down the street and think, ‘Maybe I should improve my property as well.’"
Another property that will see redevelopment activity is located at the intersection of Dodge and State streets, according to Trick.
"The property at Dodge and State street was acquired by the city to accommodate a railway underpass. The underpass option was rejected. We sent out a request for proposals and have been directed to pursue one of the proposals for an office-type structure."
Waterford gears up for Runzheimer
The biggest development push in the village of Waterford is the result of Runzheimer International’s consolidation of its Rochester and Burlington offices with existing facilities in Waterford. Runzheimer will be located on the northeast portion of Waterford in a 70-acre TIF district north of Highway 164 – the Waterford Centre.
Runzheimer will be selling property adjacent to new facility for 50% commercial and 50% light industrial development. The area will be set up with fiber optic capabilities. "Businesses that rely heavily on the Internet might want to locate in this park," Waterford village administrator Diane Schliecher said.
Runzheimer will occupy seven acres. Rex Runzheimer, the company’s president and CEO, is one of the partners in the park.
Schliecher said Runzheimer chose to consolidate in Waterford for a number of reasons.
"They wanted to control their environment," she said. "I don’t think they wanted a Culver’s in front of them. Even though I think they had their heart in working with Burlington, Waterford won because of location. Many of Runzhiemer’s newer employees are driving in from Waukesha and Milwaukee."
Torgler is philosophical about the loss of Runzheimer.
"As regards Runzheimer International, we are obviously disappointed about their decision to move their facilities to Waterford," Torgler said. "Runzheimer is a high-quality business and employer. However, as an area employer, our residents who are employed by them will still be within a short drive of their new facilities. We wish them nothing but the best of luck."
In the meantime, Waterford is gearing up for increased development in the area of the new Runzheimer site.
"From what I understand, they’re going to immediately develop south of (Runzheimer)," Schliecher said. "Runzheimer doesn’t abut Highway 164, so there is the potential for commercial development along the highway. It’s a planned development – we can work with users based on intended use, parking, setbacks and structure. We will still be restrictive on architecture and landscaping, but we can be more flexible than straightforward commercial industrial zoning."
Development of other portions of the village are also imminent, according to Schiecher.
"I think it will happen because of our visibility to the market," she said. "There is still some land available between the TIF area and McDonald’s. The land is fully improved with water and sewer. There is also some commercial on Highway 36 ready for development. One lot is owned by Jay Henrics from Peter Schwabe, Inc., out of Big Bend. The other is owned by Dave Allessee of Waterford. Both have land up and down Highway 36, and also south of East Main Street and west of 36 just north of the Burger King on Highway 36. They will build to suit or sell the land. This property does not have water and sewer yet, but they can be provided if needed."
Commercial activity has been brisk, according to Schiecher. She cites the addition of a new fully automatic laundry center on Highway 36 near McDonald’s, with additional retail spots open next door.
"In that same complex, Merry Maids will be opening, as well as an investment firm," Schliecher said.
Waterford’s downtown has been very solid, according to Schliecher.
"We had a beauty shop in business for 15 years move out of the downtown recently. It was just replaced by another beauty shop," she said. "We have minimal vacancies downtown – and are seeing a trend toward more owner-occupants."
Additional development potential is present on the west side of the village.
"We have some commercial property west of the village – owned by Matt Schulte with MSC of Waterford," Schliecher said. "The intersection at highways 20 and 83 needs work before this can be developed, but we expect this to be resolved in the next few months. The Department of Transportation wants extra turn lanes, and once the signal and lanes are in, it will be fantastic. The light should be done this fall. In the future, this will be the next nice area for small businesses like convenience stores. Currently there is only one gas station west of the river."