Real Estate: Muskego makes plans to create a downtown

The city of Muskego, located in the southwest corner of Waukesha County, does not really have a downtown.

Many residents refer to part of Janesville Road, the main commercial corridor in the community, as downtown Muskego. But Janesville Road is just another stretch of urban sprawl and lacks any center of activity that could truly be described as a downtown.

However, city officials are working to change that. Waukesha County plans to widen Janesville Road, which is a county trunk highway, from its current two lanes to a four lane boulevard with turning lanes, new sidewalks, new lighting and extensive streetscaping.

The expansion project is expected to be complete in 2013 and will dramatically change the road, its appearance and its surrounding properties. Several existing buildings along the road will be demolished for the expansion project and the buildings that remain will be located closer to the wider road when the project is done. In addition, overhead utilities will be buried, improving the appearance of the corridor.

City officials are hoping to take advantage of the Janesville Road makeover to build momentum for a makeover of the property along the roadway. The city’s Community Development Authority recently reviewed a proposed redevelopment plan for the Janesville Road corridor between Racine Avenue and Bay Lane Drive, a 170-acre area with 188 properties and a total assessed value of $73.3 million. The area is located about 2.5 miles south of I-43.

“In most communities the main road has an impact on the whole community and says what the community is all about,” said Muskego Mayor John Johnson. “We want to do (redevelopment of Janesville Road) right. This is our only shot at this for the next 100 years, probably.”

The redevelopment plan sets long range development and redevelopment goals for the area. The goals include development of vacant spaces, redevelopment and façade improvements of older buildings and reconnecting the downtown area with Little Muskego Lake by establishing view corridors and mixed-use development that enhances the public’s enjoyment of the lakefront.

At the heart of the redevelopment plan is a proposed central downtown area along Janesville Road between Lannon Drive and Parkland Drive.

“Redevelopment in this area should seek to enhance the image, profile and use of downtown Muskego,” the plan states. “Given its central location, the site plays a crucial role in the future viability of the Janesville Road commercial district. Perhaps equally important, the site provides an opportunity to begin to reshape downtown Muskego from a disparate collection of aging commercial structures to a functional and symbolic city center befitting a community of over 20,000.”

The key property in the central downtown area is the 10-acre former Parkland Mall site, located northeast of Janesville Road and Lannon Drive, which has been vacant for years. The property is owned by Art Dyer and other investors. Development of the property, perhaps the most obvious blighted property along the Janesville Road corridor, could create an anchor for downtown Muskego. The city’s plan calls for a mixed-use development on the Parkland Mall site “utilizing traditional neighborhood development standards.”

The design standards that the plan sets for the downtown area along Janesville Road between Lannon Drive and Parkland Drive set goals for urban-style downtown land use including: traditional town center/modern main street design, buildings squarely facing the street, building closer to the street with parking behind, pedestrian scale with walk-able storefronts and taller mid-rise buildings that are somewhat higher than the city norm. Uses that the plan says should be sought for the downtown area include higher end residential condominiums and a variety of retailers.

“That’s the goal. It’s going to take awhile,” Johnson said. “I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a real enhancement for the city.”

Another key area for the Janesville Road corridor redevelopment plan is the historic Pioneer Drive. The street has a number of aging historic buildings and was once set up as a classic downtown street with retail and residential structures located close to the road. But Pioneer Drive is now made up of a line of disparate commercial and residential uses along an aging roadway. The city’s plan calls for encouraging façade improvements, rebuilding the road with improved streetscaping and new structures incorporating a mix of uses (commercial on the first floor and residential above) located closer to the street with reduced side setbacks.

Another key area of the redevelopment plan is located along the south side of Janesville Road between Kristin Drive and Westwood Drive. Several commercial properties in that area are built close to Janesville Road, leaving a large area behind them for a potential development. For that area the city’s plan recommends a mix of uses that may include multi-family residential development (condos, apartments or senior living) and an open space for community events.

City officials want to assist property owners and developers in redeveloping the Janesville Road corridor. The plan calls for using city loans and grants, including tax incremental financing (TIF) when appropriate for façade improvements and other development and redevelopment projects.

“The city should not discount any financial option when trying to realize the goals and implementation measures of this plan,” the plan states. “Outside the box options should always be entertained, even when the option might seem unfeasible at face value.” 

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