August 4, 2014
The road to success for the Drexel Town Square (DTS) has been paved with obstacles but all have been surmountable, thanks to the commitment by the City of Oak Creek and the development partners.
Had it not been for the vision of City of Oak Creek officials, the 85-acre-parcel along Howell and Drexel Avenues may have remained a barren field after Delphi ceased its operations.
Oak Creek leaders, who saw the potential for the site, established a Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) district for the parcel to help pay for new sewers, water mains, roads and other public improvements at the site. Subsequently, additional funds were added for development incentives on individual projects at DTS. The new property taxes from the entities within the development will pay off the city's debt from helping to finance DTS. Once that debt is paid, the property taxes go to the city, Oak Creek School District and other local governments.
Once completed, city officials estimate the development will have a taxable value of $162 million. That will increase to an estimated $220 million by 2032.
While work on the site is clearly visible, getting to this point has not been easy, said Jerry Franke, president- WISPARK LLC, the real estate development subsidiary of Wisconsin Energy Corp. WISPARK purchased the site in August 2011.
“We acquired the site as is,” Franke said. Unlike some real estate transactions in which the buyer might ask the seller to make an improvement or two or clean up the site as part of the offer to purchase, that wasn’t possible in the case of buying the land from Delphi, a company in bankruptcy. “It is very costly to deal with the remnants of a bankrupt company and then rejuvenate the site for new use.”
More than $300,000 was spent to study the site to determine the potential for environmental contamination. Subsequently, massive concrete footings and foundations from the former Delphi industrial complex were removed from the site. The State of Wisconsin, through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, helped with the removal cost, contributing $1.15 million. The site revealed little contamination; the environmental remediation was completed in 2013.
After months of work at the site, workers continue to uncover large chunks of concrete, some bigger than a 1959 Cadillac. All of the concrete found at the site is crushed and saved for re-use in paving the roads that will be installed in DTS.
Developers remain vigilant to stay current with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. In November 2013, after 10 years of development and commentary, the EPA issued a new regulation on identifying and remediating what’s called vapor intrusion. Vapor intrusion (VI) involves the migration of potentially hazardous chemical vapors from subsurface contaminant sources, such as contaminated soil or groundwater, through subsurface soils and into indoor air.
Any new construction must comply with vapor intrusion regulation. The EPA has delegated implementation of the new regulation to state agencies that already have been monitoring environmental standards. In Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is overseeing the implementation. To date, the DNR has cleared 45 percent of the 85-acre parcel – the eastern portion – meaning it is compliant with the EPA’s regulation. “This is really good news,” said Franke.
Beyond the site but critical to its success is the current repaving of the streets along the perimeter of the DTS site. Road improvements on Howell Avenue were scheduled by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation for 2014 long before DTS was envisioned and will be completed before the opening of the new DTS retail establishments that will front Howell Avenue, including the 191,000-square-foot Meijer supermarket, which is under construction now. The improvements to Drexel Avenue were necessitated by both DTS and the installation of the new interchange with I-94 about a mile west of DTS.
“The partnership with the City of Oak Creek has been outstanding,” Franke said. “We’re pleased with the progress to date. None of this would have been possible without Oak Creek’s commitment. This site will be a public – private partnership model to be emulated by other cities faced with re-purposing a brownfield into a tax-revenue-producing site.”
City, developers focused on forward progress