Things are looking bright in downtown Waukesha, according to local business owner Susie Taylor.
A co-owner of Taylor’s People’s Park, located at the southeast corner of Clinton and West Main streets, Taylor is also involved with the Waukesha Downtown Business Association.
“I think it’s an exciting time for downtown,” Taylor said.
She said the downtown renaissance is due to a number of factors, such as events like the farmer’s market and the Friday Night Live music and entertainment events she helps organize, a shift in preferences from indoor shopping malls to specialty shops in walkable areas, and recent residential developments in the area.
A 5-acre site along Delafield Street just north of downtown, described as one of its gateways, promises to be the next development to further revitalize the area.
The city owns 5 acres of vacant land and buildings across the street from Waukesha City Hall. City leaders recently selected a pair of developers that will work with the city to develop a mix of uses there, such as senior housing and retail. Other possibilities include a medical office building, a hotel or even more retail offerings.
City officials have long thought of the site as a prime location for a mixed-use or residential development project. In 2012, Waukesha adopted its Central City Master Plan, which looked at the downtown area more broadly to include the surrounding neighborhoods, said Jeff Fortin, Waukesha senior planner.
The idea, he said, was that if the surrounding neighborhoods weren’t doing well then downtown would also suffer. In that plan, the city specifically identified the Delafield Street site and envisioned there a multi-story, mixed-use development. The idea was to build up more density, which would in turn create a larger base of customers for downtown area businesses, Fortin said.
“We see it as an extension of downtown,” he said. “It’s one of the main gateways to downtown.”
But before the city began actively seeking developers through a formal request-for-proposals process, it had only seen plans to use the site for materials storage or warehousing, Fortin said.
Last summer, the city issued a Request for Expressions of Interest for the site and followed up with an RFP earlier this year.
According to the RFP, the development site is separated into two zones. Zone A is nearly 3.4 acres located at 318 and 200 Delafield St., and currently consists of a former automotive repair facility and vacant land. Before that, the site was home to a strip mall.
The roughly 1.5-acre Zone B is the current location of the City Hall Annex building, just south of Zone A. The city’s Department of Public Works plans to vacate this building upon completion of the new city hall building, which is anticipated to be in 2021.
After receiving three responses to the RFP, aldermen selected the proposal submitted by Madison-based Horizon Development Group Inc. and Elm Grove-based Luther Group LLC.
Although the plans submitted to the city are just conceptual, they call for a four-story, 80-unit building consisting of senior apartments, along with 7,500 square feet of first-floor commercial space. That building would go up in Zone A.
As for Zone B, the development team presented a number of possibilities, including hospitality, medical, additional retail, or even more residential.
Scott Kwiecinski, development manager with Horizon, said his firm and Luther Group agreed to partner on the project shortly after seeing the RFEI last summer.
“We called each other and said, ‘It sounds like a cool development opportunity,’ and it’s in a community that we thought could use a mixed-use development like this,” he said.
Horizon has a track record of developing residential projects like this one, while Luther Group’s expertise lies in the commercial side. Jason Luther, president of Luther Group, noted the two firms recently finished working together on the Harmonee Square mixed-use project in Wauwatosa, so this proposal seemed like a similarly good fit.
The city will now work with the team to come up with a timeline and more formalized development plans, Fortin said. The development will be phased, especially given that the annex building won’t be vacated until DPW can move in to the new city hall.
Taylor said she is on board with efforts to redevelop the site.
“I think that would definitely enhance the downtown,” she said, noting the more residents in the immediate area — and the more potential foot traffic — the better.