Commercial development surges near state line
Webster defines "megalopolis" as an urban region consisting of several large, adjoining cities. That aptly describes the busy stretch of land between Chicago and Milwaukee along Interstate 94.
The state line has been blurred because of the numerous Illinois and Wisconsin commuters driving back and forth to their jobs in the neighboring state. That trend is fueling commercial real estate development activity in the Kenosha County corridor, where a company can serve both the Milwaukee and Chicago markets.
"Over the past 12 months our development activity along the corridor has been significant and impressive … We’re in the process of convincing corporations from northern Illinois to relocate into some of our business parks in the I-94 corridor," says Todd Rizzo, regional director for Wispark LLC.
Rizzo’s company, a subsidiary of Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Energy Corp., has an office in Kenosha.
"Our area has several things going for it. Lake County, just south of the state line in Illinois, has a shortage of available property. There just aren’t any large tracts of land in that area available for immediate development," Rizzo says.
"As businesses need to become more cost-conscious and competitive, they’re always looking for lower cost places to do businesses in. That’s what locations in Kenosha County offer. The cost of living here is less. Land costs here are less, as are real estate taxes. Electricity rates in Wisconsin are lower. Our overall labor costs are lower. Likewise, our worker’s compensation costs. That all adds up to a package that makes a lot of sense for companies in Illinois and other states," he says.
"Companies need to be forward-thinking. They need to make sure they’re in the right location for the next 20 years or so. They need to make the right decisions so they can stay competitive," he says.
Indeed, Wispark has been active in the Kenosha corridor:
— In the Lakeview Corporate Park in Kenosha, Wispark constructed a 250,000-square-foot, build-to-suit structure for Volkswagen Audi, which opened for business as a parts and distribution center in July. The automobile company moved 80 of its employees from Lincolnshire, Ill., and will be hiring 20 more.
— Wispark sold a 163,300-square-foot building to Yamaha Motor Corp. in the same park. Yamaha’s 55 employees are now in the building, and the company plans to hire more.
— Earlier this year, Wispark committed to build a 100,000-square-foot structure for a Canadian company, CPI Plastics. CPI signed the lease in January, and its 123 employees will be occupying the building.
— Last fall, Wispark finished a 600,000 square foot warehouse/distribution center for S.C. Johnson & Son Inc. "Early this year, they signed an agreement with us to expand that building to just under 900,000 square feet. That’s under construction right now."
According to Rizzo, those were four "fairly large" transactions in a marketplace that has been somewhat slow.
"The industrial sector has been down for the last 12 months or so because of the economy. There hadn’t been a lot of demand out there, so for us to land those was pretty exciting," he says.
The Business Park of Kenosha, located less than a mile east of I-94 on Highway 158, has also seen activity lately.
The park is a partnership of Wispark, the City of Kenosha and the Kenosha Area Business Alliance. The first phase of the park is 95 percent sold out, with only three small parcels of land left.
Ken-Mac Metals, a Cleveland-based company, signed a lease with another developer that built a 50,000-square-foot building on almost seven acres at the Kenosha site.
"Just recently, the Martin Peterson Co., an HVAC and plumbing contractor and fabricator, developed a 70,000-square-foot building, and Klein Dickert, a glass fabricator, just finished building a new 30,000-square-foot facility that they had started working on last fall," Rizzo says.
Wispark owns 104 acres on the west and adjacent to Business Park of Kenosha and is preparing to open it as Phase 2.
Tony Bareta, senior vice president with NAI MLG Commercial in Brookfield, also sees a lot of movement of industrial and retail businesses into Kenosha.
"We have several multi-tenant units near the airport, populated by some companies from Illinois and New Jersey," he says. "We have a client in the hospitality area looking seriously to build here along Highway 50. And we have a 300,000-square-foot building currently with a short-term tenant, but are looking for a permanent tenant."
Cecilia Lucas of the Kenosha Area Business Alliance says one of the corridor’s largest real estate development projects may be on the horizon.
"The Prime Outlets shopping center along I-94 has expanded, as has the Bristol Renaissance Fair," Lucas says. "West on Highway 50 Strawberry Hills, there’s an ambitious new development that will start construction next year. They’re still in the permit-gathering stage, but when it’s completed, it will consist of a 1,000-home complex, golf course and retail center."
Aug. 22, 2003 Small Business Times, by Jordan Fox, for SBT