This aerial photo taken in late September 2014 shows the 85-acre Drexel Town Square site with key construction activity that is under way.
Drexel Town Square is a “hybrid” development that combines traditional suburban commercial retail 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, Wisconsin, a growing community in southern metropolitan Milwaukee. The site will feature a mixture of traffic-generating uses, including: civic and institutional buildings; retail and service, featuring food and specialty shops; fitness facility; luxury market rate apartments; a hotel; and a medical office building. Central to the project will be a new city hall and public library. These municipal facilities will be constructed adjacent to a two-acre town square. The town square will feature year-round uses such as farmers’ market, splash pool, skating rink, and an amphitheater. It is envisioned that the appropriate mixture of uses will result in a walkable and sustainable urban neighborhood. A large area on the west part of the site has evolved over time into a low-quality wetland and scrub area. This area will be enhanced with new sedimentation ponds, rain gardens, and enhanced wetlands as well as a trail around the site and will demonstrate best management practices for stormwater management.
This 85-acre site was formerly home to a Delphi manufacturing facility. It is located 0.75 mile from the newI-94 Drexel Avenue interchange which has dramatically shifted traffic patterns within the area. Existing traffic counts are in excess of 29,000 vehicles per day on Drexel Avenue (the north side of the site) and 35,000 vehicles per day on South Howell Avenue (the east border of the site). The site is in close proximity to the Northwestern Mutual Life campus; headquarters for Caterpillar Global Mining Division and Master Lock Corporation; and, General Mitchell International Airport.
Challenges at Drexel Town Square Site
There were several challenges which had to be overcome to implement the vision, including:
· The size of the site and the amount of retail it could support is larger than Mayfair Mall (81 acres) and Brookfield Square (67 acres). The market could not support retail of that magnitude.
· The property which was acquired in “as-is” condition from the bankrupt Delphi Company and the cost of its environmental remediation had to be borne by the purchaser. The high cost of demolishing the remaining concrete pads and foundations (which were crushed and used as fill on the site). These were critical reasons for the TIF support.
· There was initial opposition to a new big-box retail store (Meijer). Absorption of the large parcel has assured more expeditious development of the site. The well-known retailer established credibility of the site and will create significant traffic and activity to and about the site.
· The southern metro-Milwaukee area has lower median income and related demographics as compared to other suburban areas of the metropolitan area.
· The need to integrate the “suburban portion” of the site (east one-third) into the town square portion.
· Convincing the community to locate the city hall and library at the new location.
City Government Commitment
When the manufacturing operations ceased at this site, the City took action to order the existing, vacant, highly-specialized, but antiquated by today’s standards buildings to be razed. Had that not occurred, it is likely that the buildings would have been used for cold storage or other low value uses.
In addition to the commitment to construct a new city hall and public library within the development, the City recently unanimously approved a tax increment financing district to prepare the site and provide infrastructure to accommodate the town center development. The State of Wisconsin awarded a $1,150,000 grant to assist in cleaning up the existing concrete and asphalt pads which remained from the original buildings on the site. MMSD has committed nearly a million dollars to create a stormwater management system and enhanced wetlands which will serve as examples of best management practices for other development in the region.
The creation of an approximately $30 million tax increment financing district was critical to the ability to move forward. Without the TIF support, the project would not have been feasible. The large size of the site; the need to install a large amount of infrastructure at one time; the cost to remove the concrete and remediate the contaminated areas; and the ability to provide incentives to developers for portions of the project created the need for the use of TIF. In addition to the incremental value created by the new development, thirty percent of the net proceeds from the sale of land at Drexel Town Square is paid to the City. The final value of the project is estimated at $175 million dollars.
General Plan Description
The eastern 30 acres of the site will be the Meijer store (under construction) and retail (primarily restaurants) outlot development. It is envisioned that the development of these types of uses will support the town center development concept and be in close proximity so as to encourage walkability to and within the town center. The middle 20 acres will be developed as a traditional downtown area with first floor retail uses and upper floor residential apartments as well as a Sheraton Four Points Hotel, the city hall, public library and town square. The western 25 acres of the property will be dedicated to high-end apartments; medical office building; and the wetland complex featuring trails.
WISPARK LLC, the real estate development subsidiary of Wisconsin Energy Corporation is the master developer for this site. The property is owned by One West Drexel LLC, which is a public/private partnership of the City and the developer designed to oversee the development of the property. Other entities that are part of the development team include Zilber Property Group, ENVIRON Consulting, GRAEF Engineering, Rinka Chung Architects, KM Construction Management and MidAmerica Real Estate Group.