RACINE — After two companies previously studied, then abandoned, the idea of redeveloping the former Ajax industrial complex into housing, a third company now has a completely new vision for that block in Uptown.
Cardinal Capital Management of West Allis proposes to demolish all but one of the old Ajax buildings and build 112 new apartments on the site that encompasses nearly the entire 1500 block of Clark Street. Company President Erich Schwenker estimated the project at $18 million, minimum.
Last week the Redevelopment Authority of Racine, which owns the land, unanimously voted in favor of Cardinal’s conceptual plan for the site.
Cardinal currently manages about 10,000 housing units, a combination of what the company has acquired, developed and rehabilitated, Schwenker said. The company has an option to buy the Ajax site for $500 and redevelop it as housing.
The project area encompasses more than 3 acres and some of Racine’s oldest industrial buildings. The redevelopment area stretches from 15th to 16th streets and from Clark Street to the Union Pacific Railroad tracks that cut through that block.
Two previous developers, first Herman & Kittle Properties and then Northpoint Development Corp., considered redoing most of the Ajax complex of buildings as a historic preservation project, using tax credits and/or low-income housing tax credits to create about 74 apartments.
However, most of the buildings are in poor shape, and using historic tax credits is very constraining, Schwenker and his team told the RDA.
The buildings that Cardinal most wanted to save were in the worst condition, said company Director of Construction Mark Klann.
“With an historic tax credit, when they say ‘preserved,’ they mean preserved,” Schwenker said. “Everything, anything. And there’s not a lot of flexibility.”
Cardinal will finance the project with multiple sources including going out for private investor money, Schwenker said. He said it is unlikely the company will use any tax credits whatsoever.
“They require you to be in a box of some kind,” he said. “This project requires flexibility.”
New housing proposal
So instead of a historic preservation/low-income housing project, Cardinal decided to redevelop the site much differently. The company proposes to demolish all but one of the old Ajax buildings — and save the historic Pabst tavern at the block’s southeastern corner; Cardinal has the tavern under contract to purchase.
On the block that would then be mostly open, Cardinal proposes to build 112 housing units of types that Schwenker collectively called “workforce housing.” It is to be a mixture of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, with 159 parking spaces on site. He said about one-third of the housing would give preference to military veterans.
The plan includes a long, L-shape building of townhouses fronting both Clark and 15th streets. It would have “walk-ups,” or small sets of steps for frontal access, as well as access from the driveway behind.
Two other buildings will have parking at street level beneath the second-floor apartments.
Saving two buildings
Ryan Douglas of LandQuest is working with Cardinal on the project in the role of gathering thoughts and opinions from city leaders and the community to help create a vision for the site.
In addition to saving the tavern, Douglas said, “The oldest building in that development … is going to be maintained — although expensive. It will kind of anchor that section and honor the past.”
Cardinal envisions that building, which has over 5,000 square feet of space, as “an ideal community-type building,” said Cardinal architect Tadgh McInerney.
“The initial plan,” Douglas said, “was just to (explain) why we couldn’t save those buildings. And then give, ‘Here’s another idea.’ And if we get a good, positive response of ‘Yeah, we like where you’re heading,’ we’re going to get input and suggestions and work through that whole process of final design.”
Schwenker said because the site has numerous contaminants from its industrial heyday and will require environmental remediation, he hopes Cardinal could start construction in spring 2019.