With open land and open minds, south suburbs experiencing a renaissance

Real Estate

A rendering of 84South in Greenfield.

Last month, the City of Franklin approved a $26.8 million special taxing district to help pay for the long-awaited Ballpark Commons project at The Rock Sports Complex.

The $120 million mixed-use development on more than 200 acres at West Rawson Avenue and West Old Loomis Road will include a 4,000-seat minor league baseball stadium, an indoor sports complex and more than 300 apartments once complete.

A rendering of 84South in Greenfield.
A rendering of 84South in Greenfield.

The city’s passage of the financing portion of the project signified to many that Franklin is ready to embrace a massive commercial and economic development project that has been more than two years in the making.

Just east of Franklin is Oak Creek, which many consider the city’s more progressive sister. Side note: When Ballpark Commons developer Michael Zimmerman was turned down for a $10 million city-financed baseball stadium in Franklin in 2014, he tried to float the idea in Oak Creek but was again denied.

Over the past five years, Oak Creek has completely transformed itself from a bedroom community to one of the region’s hottest developed areas. The city will welcome the state’s first IKEA furniture store in 2017.

Oak Creek has also helped redevelop the former 85-acre Delphi manufacturing plant site at the southwest corner of South Howell and East Drexel avenues into Drexel Town Square, a mixed-use project that includes a Meijer store, several restaurants, 600 upscale apartments, a mixed-use main street, an upscale senior living center, a health care complex, and a new city hall and library.

A rendering of a $6.6 million mixed-use development in downtown South Milwaukee.
A rendering of a $6.6 million mixed-use development in downtown South Milwaukee.

Oak Creek Mayor Steve Scaffidi said the Ballpark Commons project in Franklin is huge for that city. It’s also one of the many signs that Milwaukee’s south suburbs are undergoing a major renaissance with numerous development projects, Scaffidi said.

“We have the land and we have the transportation connections to do it. The North Shore either doesn’t want to do it, or is too built out. Same thing out west, in Waukesha,” Scaffidi said. “Some mayors like things the way they’ve always been, but if you operate that way, you’ll get eaten alive. The levy is frozen and the costs don’t stop going up. If you don’t find ways to increase revenue, you’ll die.”

In St. Francis, Mandel Group is moving forward with a multi-family housing development on property it has owned since 2006. The 12-acre parcel, known as the “triangle property,” bordered by South Lake Drive, South Packard Avenue and East Howard Avenue, just west of Lake Michigan, could become a mix of multi-family housing and retail.

This spring, the FBI moved from 330 E. Kilbourn Ave. in downtown Milwaukee to 3600 S. Lake Drive in St. Francis, where it signed a 20-year lease in the former Stark Investments building. Kenosha-based Bear Development also is working with the City of St. Francis on a plan to build 315 luxury apartments overlooking Lake Michigan.

A rendering of Explorium Brewpub at Southridge Mall in Greendale.
A rendering of Explorium Brewpub at Southridge Mall in Greendale.

Milwaukee-based Vetter Denk is hoping to begin construction in spring on a $6.6 million mixed-use development in downtown South Milwaukee that will include a microbrewery, beer garden, 24 apartments and 5,000 square feet of commercial space. South Milwaukee Mayor Erik Brooks believes the project, which will be built on 0.74 acres of city-owned property at 11th and Madison Avenues, is the first step to revitalize South Milwaukee’s city center.

“This project would be a game-changer for downtown South Milwaukee,” Brooks said when the project was announced. “It is one of the biggest developments in our city center in decades, and it will serve as a catalyst in our ongoing downtown redevelopment efforts.”

Several national retailers have shown interest in 84South, a mixed-use project currently being developed by Milwaukee-based Cobalt Partners along I-894 between West Layton Avenue, South 84th and South 92nd streets, in Greenfield. The retailers include Stein Mart, Total Wine & More, Ross Dress for Less, Marshalls, Ulta Beauty, OshKosh B’Gosh, Carter’s, Kirkland’s and Five Below. Restaurants for the project include Portillo’s, Five Guys, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Potbelly Sandwich Shop, MOD Pizza and Panera Bread.

The 42-acre project is being anchored by a Steinhafels furniture store, which is relocating from the corner of South 84th Street and West Layton Avenue, and a Fresh Thyme Farmers Market grocery store.

A rendering of Ballpark Commons in Franklin.
A rendering of Ballpark Commons in Franklin.

In nearby Greendale, Southridge Mall, 5300 S. 76th St., is adding five new retail tenants, a craft brewery called Explorium Brewpub, and an eight-screen Marcus theater.

Blair Williams, president of WiRED Properties, who is developing the Main Street portion of Drexel Town Square in Oak Creek and is involved with the Ballpark Commons project in Franklin, said the overall real estate market in metro Milwaukee is dynamic, with activity across the south suburbs, but also in Brookfield, Wauwatosa and Shorewood. But what the south suburban communities have, Williams said, is proximity to the airport, freeway access and they are located on the corridor to Racine, Kenosha and Chicago.

“The body count in the south (suburban) markets is less dense than those to the north or near west, but the body count is still there,” Williams said. “What is unequivocal about the south markets is they truly have the ability to grow. They aren’t constrained the way some other markets are. And, with the success Oak Creek has seen, it is becoming clear to a large number of retailers and businesses that those southern markets deserve a close look – and investment.”

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