Real Estate: Burlington plans downtown redevelopment

City of Burlington officials plan to acquire several downtown properties to assemble sites for a proposed redevelopment project that will include a hotel, a 45,000-square-foot mixed-use building and a parking structure.

The city plans to acquire seven properties along North Dodge Street between East Washington Street and East Chestnut Street. Burlington Co-Op occupies the block to the east of Dodge Street. Most of the properties on the eastern half of the block to the west of Dodge Street are vacant.

The city is hoping to negotiate sales with the property owners, but may use its eminent domain powers as a last resort, said City Administrator Kevin Lahner.

“It’s an opportunity to improve an area of the downtown that is currently underdeveloped and in decline,” he said. “We’re very excited about it, but it’s going to take a lot of work.”

Once it acquires the properties, the city plans to demolish the buildings and remove any contamination. The city also will build a 240-space parking structure on the site west of Dodge Street.

The parking will be available for free. It will address the biggest need identified by downtown business owners, Lahner said.

“We did a downtown strategic planning session in August, and the No. 1 issue with downtown business owners is the lack of parking,” he said. “The parking structure will probably solve our parking needs downtown for years to come. It more than doubles the amount of available parking downtown. It’s a big piece of the (redevelopment) project.”

The city plans to spend $3 million for the property acquisition, cleanup work and parking structure construction. The parking structure alone will cost about $1.5 million. The city expects to receive a grant from the state Department of Commerce for about $400,000 to $700,000, Lahner said. The rest of the cost will be paid for with tax incremental financing (TIF) funds, he said.

Greendale-based Lexington Hotel Development Group LLC will build a hotel on the site currently occupied by Burlington Co-Op, east of Dodge Street. Current plans call for a $3.74 million, three-story, 52-room hotel.

“The best prospect looks to be Hampton Inn, but it could be one of several other (hotel chains) as well,” Lahner said. The hotel will be built just north of a new McDonald’s restaurant that was built last year, which replaced an older McDonald’s restaurant.

The hotel would be a big addition for Burlington, which lacks a business class hotel. Businesses in the city of about 10,000 often have visitors staying at hotels in Waterford or Lake Geneva, Lahner said.

The final piece of the redevelopment project is a $4.75 million, three-story, 45,000-square-foot building that a group of local investors, called Downtown Core Upgrades LLC, plans to build along Chestnut Street and north of the city’s planned parking structure. The building would have 15,000 square feet of first floor retail space and 30,000 square feet of office space on the second and third floors. It would also feature architecture that would fit in with the other historic buildings in the downtown area.

The hotel and new retail and office space will bring more people to downtown Burlington to support local businesses there, Lahner said.

“Anything that creates destinations downtown to support our local businesses is critical,” he said. “We need things to draw people downtown to hang out for awhile.”

The hotel, parking structure and mixed-use building should be completed by the end of next year, Lahner said. To accommodate the footprint needed for the parking structure and the hotel, a portion of Washington Street will be eliminated.

The hotel will complement another downtown project, that is under construction. A nonprofit organization is renovating and expanding the Veterans Memorial facility at Echo Park, located about three blocks from the planned hotel site. The city owns the building, which is being re-named Veterans Terrace, but the non-profit group is paying for the $4.5 million remodeling and expansion project through fund-raising. Once the project is complete, expected in September, the Veterans Terrace building will have three rooms one with a capacity of 400, one with a capacity for about 200 and one with a capacity of about 150, for weddings, banquets, meetings or other events. The facility will be operated by the non-profit group and any profits will be donated to community organizations.

The hotel, parking structure and mixed-use building make up the second phase of the city’s downtown revitalization efforts. The first phase was done about 10 years ago when the city acquired and cleaned up 20 properties on the Fox River. A river walkway was built and new development occurred near the river including the Boardwalk Apartments building and the Charcoal Grill restaurant.

“(The hotel, parking structure and mixed-use building redevelopment project) combined with the Veterans Terrace are the two missing pieces (of downtown) to me,” Lahner said. “It is a very thriving downtown. I think this project will put (downtown) over the hump to make it a destination for people.” 

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