Strong plans expansion of headquarters
Expanded TIF district to spark $150 million in development
By Steve Jagler, of SBT
Strong Financial Corp. plans to expand its plush headquarters and add up to $150 million in new development at its Heritage Reserve complex in Menomonee Falls.
The ambitious new development, spread across 120 acres, will include a hotel or conference center, a medical service building, upscale retail, a bank, a senior housing complex, several more office buildings and upscale apartments and condominiums.
The new projects will be linked by a series of streetscaping improvements, ponds and walkways along Good Hope Road and Appleton Avenue.
Although the financial services industry has been trying to weather three consecutive years of a declining stock market, Strong eventually will need to expand its headquarters to meet future demands, according to Bruce Behling, senior vice president of Strong Capital Management.
"If our assets grow, and the lines of services expand, we’ll need to expand to the north, eventually," Behling said. "We’ll hit one of those growth periods again in the future, and then we’ll struggle like hell to build another building."
Strong has grown from six employees when it was founded in 1981 to 1,350 today, Behling said.
A developers agreement was finalized in March to expand the existing tax incremental financing (TIF) district at the Heritage Reserve site by 120 acres, clearing the way for a host of new projects, including:
— $60 million in development on 32 acres in a parcel north of the Strong headquarters and south of North Hills Country Club. The site could be the home of an expanded Strong headquarters or could be the home of another company’s corporate headquarters, Behling said.
— $40 million in development on 30 acres in a parcel south of Good Hope Road, west of 124th Street and east of Appleton Avenue. The site will include a hotel or a conference center and more office buildings, Behling said.
— $20 million in development on 30 acres in a parcel north of Good Hope Road, west of Appleton Avenue and south of North Hills Country Club. The site will be a mixed-use development that will include some upscale condominiums, some upscale retail and some commercial development. The possibilities include restaurants, a grocery store, a dry cleaning store, a bookstore and a bank, Behling said.
— $30 million in development on 38 acres in a parcel south of Good Hope and west of Appleton Avenue. The site will include a senior housing complex, some office buildings and a medical service center, Behling said.
In recent years, Strong has been acquiring the land surrounding its headquarters to preserve the value of its original investment, according to Behling.
The new development at Heritage Reserve will receive another $12 million in TIF funding over 10 years for infrastructure to accommodate the new projects, Behling said.
"We hope that we can liquidate this (TIF financing) by 2112," Behling said. "We could have 10,000 jobs out here when it’s all said and done."
With the new TIF agreement in place, the infrastructure improvements to Good Hope Road and Appleton Avenue near U.S. Highway 45 will begin with $4.8 million in work this year, according to Steve Holzhauer, a principal at Eppstein Uhen Architects, which has been hired to design uniform streetscaping at the site.
"There will be a real visible corridor, with improvements to create a uniform look and feel, with trees, pedestrian paths, berms, unified landscaping, unified lighting, ponds and walkways," Holzhauer said. "There are doctor groups interested in developing possibly a women’s health center or possibly something related to the senior housing development that will go there. We’re looking at condos, retail, an upscale grocery store, and a hotel still makes a lot of sense there."
A second dedicated electrical supply line will be extended to the Heritage Reserve site to minimize any power interruptions in the complex, Holzhauer said.
The partners in the extended TIF district are the Village of Menomonee Falls, the Menomonee Falls School District, Waukesha County and the Waukesha County Technical College District.
Strong bought the site of its current headquarters in 1986 and moved out of its downtown Milwaukee site at 815 E. Mason St. to the wooded, rolling prairie near Highway 45 a year later.
"We could not find suitable rental space in existing buildings we could buy in downtown Milwaukee that met our criteria, which included flexibility, ease of travel, efficiency and technology," Behling said. "We were trying to recruit people from all over the world. We have found this area to help us tremendously in recruiting and retention."
Shortly after moving to Menomonee Falls, the company, in the midst of a booming economy, began acquiring adjacent land.
"The next thing we knew, there’s a piece of land for sale next to us. They were going to put in a Jiffy Lube or something. We started accumulating the land around us, almost in a defensive stance. We set out to create the highest-quality office park," Behling said.
That office park became the Woodland Prime development in Heritage Reserve.
Heritage Reserve would not have been developed without the support and vision of former Menomonee Falls Mayor Joseph Greco, Behling said.
Greco played an instrumental role in establishing the original TIF district that paid for the $5 million in infrastructure needed to develop the land near Good Hope Road, Behling said. That TIF funding will be repaid by 2006, Behling said.
When the extended TIF district is repaid, the prime real estate developments will add substantially to the property tax base of the village, Behling said.
"Joe Greco — all of this could not have happened without him. You’ve got to have strong leadership and municipal leaders have to share the vision," Behling said. "The partnership we entered into made a lot of sense for the village of Menomonee Falls."
The project also received $20 million in assistance in road development from federal, state and local funds that were guaranteed by the private sector.
The Heritage Reserve development stands as the ultimate example of a productive partnership between the private and public sectors, Behling said.
"We ran the numbers, and we couldn’t afford to build the infrastructure to develop all of the land we had acquired," Behling said. "Good Hope Road needed to be improved. It wasn’t safe, and it implied an image that you were leaving civilization.
"We could not have created this ‘Field of Dreams’ without the help of this public/private partnership," Behling said. "We think we’ve got a model now that can be used by others, a cooperation between public and private partners and a cooperation between different municipalities."
May 16, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee