Real Estate Spotlight: New I-94 interchange just in time for Franklin’s planned industrial park

Map of future interchange at I-94 and Elm Road.
Map of future interchange at I-94 and Elm Road.

Last updated on February 3rd, 2020 at 05:54 pm

A long-planned corporate park in the city of Franklin that’s finally taking shape will have the fortune of being located next to a new I-94 freeway interchange.

City leaders, who are moving forward with infrastructure improvements of their own to facilitate the park’s development, expect the new freeway ramp will greatly aid their efforts.

The new Franklin Corporate Park is to be developed on land located south of West Oakwood Road, west of South 27th Street and north of South County Line Road.

Calli Berg, Franklin director of economic development, said the future park totals 520 acres. This includes existing businesses within its boundaries as well as 385 acres currently listed for sale. Factoring out woodland and wetland areas, at least 300 acres are developable, she said.

Work is about to commence to prepare the area for development.

Franklin’s Common Council in January awarded a number of contracts related to public infrastructure improvements there, including a new wastewater pumping station. It also directed staff to proceed with related land acquisitions. New roads are planned within the park as well.

Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation is working to finish construction of a new full-access interchange at Elm Road, which currently ends at 27th Street.

The timing couldn’t be better for preparing the new industrial park and marketing it to developers, who had already shown interest in the area, Berg said.

“We are uniquely situated to capitalize on businesses looking for relocation (and) consolidation opportunities,” she said.

The city has for decades viewed this area as a future corporate park.

Franklin Mayor Steve Olson said the site was studied in 1999 as part of a citywide economic development plan. A consultant working on that plan determined this area was the city’s best opportunity for a business park.

“So, we started planning for that, rezonings, that kind of thing back in 2000,” he said.

The park’s first industrial developments will likely take place on 80 acres owned by JHB Properties. Plans for that site include four lots, three of which would contain a 150,000-square-foot speculative industrial building each. The fourth would contain a 124,000-square-foot industrial building.

The lots will be prepared for development by ZS Enterprises. Scott Biller, a senior project architect with Milwaukee-based Plunkett Raysich Architects, is also the owner of JHB Properties and ZS Enterprises.

Biller said two of the lots will be sold to and developed by Chicago-based HSA Commercial Real Estate, while the remaining two will soon be made available to developers. HSA is expected to close on the properties in June, he said.

Biller said his family has owned this land since the 1970s, when his grandfather purchased it with the intention of farming the land after retirement. While that never happened, the family has waited for the right time to develop it, knowing the city’s long-term vision, he said.

What finally got things moving was the construction of the Elm Road Interchange.

The reconstruction for the I-94 north-south corridor expansion project was fast-tracked after Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group announced its plans for a massive Mount Pleasant manufacturing campus in 2017. That meant construction of the Elm Road interchange was also put into motion, Biller said. It was around this time that representatives of HSA reached out to him with interest.

“They were interested in our land because there was a direct link (with the interchange),” he said. “Elm Road basically terminated at our property.”

WisDOT spokesman Michael Pyritz said the interchange, set to finish in late spring, will replace the partial interchange on 27th Street immediately south, noting the old freeway ramps were inefficient. It also made sense to build a full interchange given the potential developments occurring nearby, he added.

“The projected growth of the area warranted having access at that location and not just a half interchange,” Pyritz said.

Olson said the city would like to see that the park isn’t developed in a fragmented way. It is seeking to work with landowners to ensure a more unified approach. He said the city wants to avoid a large number of small spec buildings, and would prefer light manufacturing uses over warehouse or storage space.

“We’re looking for high-value business uses down there,” he said. “Not to say a warehouse isn’t high value to someone, (but) we’re looking for high property value uses rather than a warehouse.”

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Alex Zank, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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