Prior to the development of Drexel Town Square, the site was a manufacturing and technology center, built in 1957 by Delco Electronics, Oak Creek’s largest employer at the time. Throughout the years and a number of corporate changes later, the site became AC Spark Plug, the AC Electronics Division of General Motors, which ultimately became Delphi Electronics & Safety. The company went bankrupt and the plant was finally closed in 2008. In 2007 a portion of the plant was demolished to make room for Woodman’s grocery store. The rest was demolished and had been vacant for years. Seeing the potential of the property and the needs of the community, Wispark LLC acquired it in August of 2011. Wispark is the real estate development subsidiary of WEC Energy Group and a leader in the development of innovative commercial and residential spaces. Not without challenges, Drexel Town Square is now a jewel in a once rusted area of Oak Creek.
There were many challenges which had to be overcome to implement the vision of the developer, including:
- Money: The property was acquired in “as-is” condition and the heavy cost of its environmental remediation had to be shouldered entirely by the purchaser (initially). Removal of underground storage tanks and hazardous waste, demolishing the buildings, crushing the concrete pads and foundations, and major grading were among the many financial challenges facing the development.
- Resources: Since the size of the site is large, 85 acres, which is larger than both Mayfair Mall (81 acres) and Brookfield Square (67 acres), the developer had to lobby suitable and stable businesses to occupy the spaces and support the community’s needs without compromising the relaxed neighborhood vibe.
- Community Support: Since the southern metro-Milwaukee area has lower median income and related demographics compared to other suburban areas, members of the community were skeptical that the development would pay off. Convincing the community to re-locate City Hall and the library to the new location was also a challenge. There was also opposition by the community to bring in another big-box retail store - Meijer.
City & State Government Commitments
In addition to the commitment to construct City Hall and the public library within the development, the City of Oak Creek unanimously approved a $30 million Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district to prepare the site and provide infrastructure to accommodate the town center development. Because of factors such as the large size of the site; the need to install a large amount of infrastructure all at once; the cost to remove the concrete and remediate the contaminated areas; and providing incentives to developers for portions of the project were also necessary. Without the TIF support, the project may not have been possible. MMSD also committed nearly a million dollars to create the storm water management system and enhance the wetlands. Luckily, the State of Wisconsin also awarded a $1,150,000 grant to assist in the environmental clean-up of the site. In addition to the incremental value created by the new development, 30 percent of the net proceeds from the sale of land at Drexel Town Square are paid directly to the City. The final value of the project is estimated at more than $175 million.
Awarded for Vision
On April 14, 2016, Wispark LLC and the City of Oak Creek received the 2016 Vision Award from the Milwaukee Business Journal for the successful Drexel Town Square development. The paper’s 2016 Real Estate Award program recognizes projects that make an impact on the vitality of southeast Wisconsin. The newspaper recognized Wispark LLC and the City of Oak Creek for transforming the former Delphi manufacturing site into a lively, mixed-use development which is a model for other cities and communities.
“We’ve accomplished a great deal to this point,” said Jerry Franke, president – Wispark LLC. “There’s more good news to come. The future here is very bright.”
Drexel Town Square is a “hybrid” development that combines traditional suburban commercial development and a neo-urban mixed-use development, reminiscent of a traditional downtown. The 85-acre in-fill site is located in the city of Oak Creek, a growing community in the southern metropolitan Milwaukee Wisconsin area. The site features a mixture of traffic-generating uses.
The site includes the Meijer store and fuel center, Marriott Towneplace Suites hotel, retail and service businesses, food and specialty shops, luxury apartments, and a medical facility. The middle 20 acres was developed as a traditional downtown area with first floor retail uses and upper floor residential apartments. The center is also home to the Oak Creek Civic Center which includes Oak Creek City Hall and Oak Creek Public Library. The town square features year-round use such as a farmers market and splash pad in Spring and Summer, skating rink in Winter, and an outdoor amphitheater. The balanced mix of uses has resulted in a walkable and sustainable urban neighborhood.
The western 25 acres of the property is dedicated to high-end apartments, a medical office building, the Emerald Preserve, and the Dale Richards Trail. Prior to the start of the development, the preserve and trail area was a low-quality wetland and scrub area. The area has recently been enhanced with new sedimentation ponds, rain gardens, and enhanced wetlands. Using best practices, the wetlands park demonstrates environmental responsibility for storm water management.
This 85-acre site is located just east of the new I-94 Drexel Avenue interchange, which has dramatically shifted traffic patterns within the area. Existing traffic counts are in excess of 36,000 vehicles per day on Drexel Avenue and 47,000 vehicles per day on South Howell Avenue. The site is in close proximity to the Northwestern Mutual Life campus, the new (under construction) Ikea, and General Mitchell International Airport.
Wispark LLC, the real estate development subsidiary of WEC Energy Group, was the master developer for this site. Other entities which are a part of the development team include: Zilber Property Group, Ramboll Environ, GRAEF, Rinka Chung Architects, and KM Development Corporation.