Real Estate: Waukesha bypass could re-shape development landscape

State and local government officials recently announced an agreement to pay for the long-planned west side Waukesha bypass.

It will be several years before the $50.7 million project is completed (the environmental impact study is expected to be complete in 2011), but once it is complete, the bypass will likely have a major impact on the real estate development landscape in Waukesha County.

The biggest impact of the bypass will be that it will make it a lot easier for people to travel from north to south (or vice versa) in Waukesha County, said Mike Judson, president of Pewaukee-based real estate brokerage Judson and Associates S.C.

“I think it’s going to have a wide impact county-wide,” Judson said. “It is going to make it much easier for people in northern Waukesha and north of Waukesha to get to I-43. Right now to get south to Muskego, you might as well plan a day. I know all of the short-cuts but there are a lot of stop lights.”

Improving the north-south traffic flow in the county will help communities in the southern part of the county, such as Mukwonago, Big Bend and the Town of Vernon attract commercial development, Judson said. Many building tenants and developers avoid the southern part of the county now, he said.

“When we’re talking with potential clients we hear it all the time, ‘I want to be north of the interstate (I-94),'” Judson said. “We ask them, ‘why?’ They say, ‘I don’t want to deal with the Waukesha street system.'”

Waukesha Mayor Larry Nelson also says the bypass will benefit more than just his city.

“I think this is one of the most important transportation solutions for the city of Waukesha, Waukesha County and the entire region,” he said.

In addition to making the southern part of the county more attractive for development, land along the four-lane bypass road will likely become hot spots for development. The exact route of the bypass will be determined by the environmental impact study. However the most logical route for the bypass, shown in preliminary bypass maps, is an expanded Merrill Hills Road on the west side of Waukesha connected with four lane Highway 59 on the south side of the city.

The large bypass road will likely attract a high traffic volume. The St. Paul Avenue, Sunset Drive, Merrill Hills Road and Meadowbrook Road corridor currently acts as an alternate 2-lane bypass route which attracts up to 16,000 vehicles per day. Traffic volumes on a four-lane bypass road will probably be even higher.

There are still several large vacant properties along the potential new bypass corridor that could become very attractive to developers that will want to build along the busy road, once the bypass is built.

“As an overall perspective you are increasing (land) values and increasing development in the area,” Judson said.

Even though there is a lot of vacant land along the potential bypass corridor, the area around the bypass on the west side of Waukesha is still largely developed. It is not in the middle of nowhere.

“We have had tremendous growth on the west side of the city over the last 10 to 15 years,” Nelson said. “It’s already out there. This will make it even more attractive (for development).”

The bypass will take some traffic of off some streets, such as Sunset. But it will also make it easier to get to some of those areas, such as the Shoppes at Fox River retail development by Opus North Corp. northeast of Sunset Drive and St. Paul Avenue.

“(The bypass) will be huge for the Opus development,” Judson said.

Dealership issues pose challenges for South 27th Street

The future of several auto dealerships on South 27th Street is uncertain and some may close, which could leave several gaping holes in the business corridor.

The former Foster Pontiac property at 3636 S. 27th St. in Milwaukee has been vacant since 2006.

Chrysler LLC recently announced plans to cut ties with the Braeger Chrysler Jeep dealership at 6133 S. 27th St., Greenfield, and the Schlossmann’s Dodge City dealership at 4640 S. 27th St., Milwaukee.

Todd Reardon, the owner of the Braeger dealerships, says he hopes to keep his Chrysler dealership open selling other brands or selling used vehicles.

“We’re going to keep our store operating as long as we can,” he said.

Schlossmann’s will continue selling Subaru vehicles at its South 27th Street dealership and is changing the name from Dodge City to Subaru City. The dealership will continue to provide service for Dodge vehicles.

“We want people to know we are committed to the business of selling and servicing cars, including Chrysler products,” said the dealership’s vice president and co-owner Mike Schlossmann. “For now, we want to take care of our customers, build up our Subaru franchise and look for other franchises down the road.”

The Braeger Chrysler Jeep dealership was moved in 2007 from South 27th Street and Howard Avenue in Milwaukee to its current location. A CVS Pharmacy was built on part of the former dealership property, but the rest remains vacant.

Adding to the challenges on South 27th Street, the state Department of Transportation has closed the freeway ramps from I-894 to the street as part of the I-94 North-South expansion and reconstruction project. Even after the project is complete, northbound traffic through the Mitchell Interchange will not be allowed to exit at South 27th Street. Those travelers will have to use Layton Avenue instead. Traffic from downtown and from the west will still be able to exit at South 27th Street.

The owners of several business owners on the street complained about the ramp change. Reardon says he plans to eventually relocate his Braeger Chevrolet dealership at 4100 S. 27th St. in Milwaukee and his Braeger Ford dealership at 4201 S. 27th St. in Greenfield, because of the ramp closure.

“It’s something I think I’ve been forced into,” he said.

Depending on what opportunities come along the dealerships could be moved soon, or not for several years, he said.

“I always look (for new locations),” Reardon said. “I have looked at every location on the south side of (metro) Milwaukee. It could happen tomorrow. It could happen 10 years from now.”

Reardon, the immediate past chairman of the South 27th Street Business Preservation Association said he is concerned about the future of the street’s business corridor.

“I worry about South 27th Street,” he said. “I think the city of Milwaukee has a big problem if they’ve got 25-acre parcels of vacant land that people are driving by every day on 27th Street. I like being in the city of Milwaukee. (Leaving) is not something I want to do. I think one day people are going to wake up and say, ‘Look what we’ve done,’ and then they will start trying to fix it.”

However, Milwaukee and Greenfield officials are already working together on plans to boost business on South 27th Street said Milwaukee Department of City Development Commissioner Richard “Rocky” Marcoux. Milwaukee and Greenfield officials are discussing possible streetscape improvements and Milwaukee Ald. Terry Witkowski is working with businesses owners on the street on efforts to form a business improvement district.

Despite the challenges that the street faces from possible auto dealership moves and closures, the street remains a viable place for business, Marcoux said.

“South 27th Street is a very strong corridor,” he said. “The traffic counts are astounding. There are strong residential neighborhoods on each side of South 27th Street.”

Marcoux said city officials are open to “any and all ideas that make sense,” for redevelopment proposals for auto dealerships or other properties on the street.

At the southern end of Milwaukee County, South 27th Street has attracted several developments in recent years including a Staybridge Suites hotel, the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. Franklin campus, the Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare-Franklin hospital and the Liberty Corporate Preserve office and industrial space development in Oak Creek by Liberty Property Trust.

Milwaukee and Greenfield officials need to work to attract some of the development momentum that has occurred on the southern end of South 27th Street in recent years, Marcoux said. 

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