The city of St. Francis intends to facilitate the development of a dense mixed-use project on property it now owns near the Lake Michigan lakefront.
The 12.7-acre, triangular-shaped site is northwest of west of East Howard Avenue and South Lake Drive. The city acquired it last week for nearly $3.54 million, according to state records.
Milwaukee-based Mandel Group Inc. was the seller. The developer had owned the property since 2007.
Mark Johnsrud, St. Francis administrator, said the city now controls the destiny of the development site as its new owner. It will eventually seek a developer to execute its vision, though when exactly that will happen is still undetermined.
But St. Francis officials already know what they want developed there. According to the city's comprehensive plan, this site and others nearby should offer a mix of uses. Comprehensive plans are created by communities to map out their development and land-use goals.
Specifically, the project on the triangle site would contain commercial space and parking on lower levels, with apartments above, Johnsrud said. It would ideally have at minimum $30 million in value.
Bob Monnat, senior partner at Mandel, said in an email the decision to sell the site comes after the firm proposed a project that was less dense than city officials were looking for. It had pitched something only one or two stories tall, Johnsrud said.
Monnat said his firm is still interested in pursuing a project at the site. Only now, it will likely be competing with other developers.
"While we relinquish control of the site we would rather not have to continue the expense of carrying the land along with the substantial predevelopment costs associated with a more complex higher-density development," Monnat said.
Johnsrud said an opportunity to develop a site like this does not happen often.
"We want to make sure that we develop it correctly and develop it in accordance with our comprehensive plan," he said.
The city used money from an existing tax incremental financing district to acquire the land, Johnsrud said. The district is performing well due to two luxury apartment projects that have been built along the lakefront within the last five years. The first is The Mariner, a 221-unit apartment complex southeast of Howard and Lake. Further south along Lake Drive is the 236-unit 4200 On The Lake. Construction just finished this spring.
Although the triangle property is west of Lake Drive, and therefore not on the lake, it will have unimpeded lakefront views. This is because a portion of the vacant site across Lake Drive is not developable. We Energies years ago demolished an old power plant there, and buried parts of the building including its smokestacks.
Some of that land is still developable. Local hotel developer Ajit "Jay" Walia owns the roughly 20-acre site.
The city also owns undeveloped lands farther east on Howard Avenue, where it meets South Kinnickinnic Avenue. Johnsrud said he imagines something similar being developed there as what the comprehensive plan envisions for the triangle property.
"Things are looking up for St. Francis," Johnsrud said. He noted that for a few years it seemed like the city was mostly receiving proposals for things like storage units.
Monnat said Mandel is bullish on the south shore market and will continue to pursue development opportunities there. He also said St. Francis has not gotten as much attention from developers as it should.
"The city of St. Francis has done a terrific job on encouraging large-scale, tax increment-generating development on the lakefront, many years into the calendar of the TIF (district) that was originally put in place in 2007-'08," he said.
TIF districts are created to facilitate real estate development in a particular area. In such a district, communities pay for things like new infrastructure or development incentives. The debt they take on is repaid through new property taxes generated in the district, which come through new development and rising property values.