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Racine Theatre Guild actors perform a scene from the 2017 production of "A Christmas Carol."


Local
Regency Mall
Mall’s Boston Store closing? Bon-Ton issues layoff warning to state

RACINE — Regency Mall could be losing another anchor with Bon-Ton Stores’ notification Friday that it might close 13 Wisconsin Boston Stores including the one here.

Bon-Ton, parent company of Boston Store, has been ailing (it filed for bankruptcy protection in February) and notified the state Friday of potential large-scale job elimination starting in June. The timetable was not specified.

The other Boston Stores that could potentially be closed include six in the greater Milwaukee area, two in Madison, and one each in Green Bay, Marshfield, Janesville and Eau Claire.

Even after the state issued its Wisconsin Business Closing and Mass Layoff, or WARN Act notice, it appeared the local store had not been notified, according to a manager who answered the phone there.

Regency Mall escaped an earlier round of Boston Store closing announcements in late January, when Bon-Ton announced plans to close 42 stores.

In a statement released Friday, Bon-Ton said is in active discussions with an investor group to acquire the company and hoped that jobs will be preserved through a sale process.

The potential bad news comes even as the mall’s owner, Hull Property Group of Augusta, Ga., is well into significant interior upgrades at Regency in that firm’s attempt to save what it calls a “failed mall.”

The mall’s owner only learned on Friday that the Boston Store could be closing through contact with news media, according to a statement from Hull Property Group.

“It is unfortunate the department store chain has experienced financial difficulties but the new realities of retail have impacted many such chains,” the statement read.

The Racine Boston Store and property where it is located are owned by Bon-Ton, not Hull Property Group.

“Hull Property Group is optimistic that a redevelopment of this site can occur and we would wholeheartedly support such a redevelopment as either a neighbor or owner of the property,” the statement read.

Hull bought the mall in late 2016 for $9.5 million with the intention of turning it around — Hull’s specialty. Part of HPG’s revitalization strategy for malls is to spend millions of dollars on what the company calls “sacrificial investments” in each failed mall to transform the interiors and greatly modify the exteriors.

Hull began its interior renovations at Regency in early January.

Hard-hit retail area

If it closed, Boston Store would be the third anchor store that Regency Mall would lose within a few years of each other, along with the departed Sears, which closed there in 2013, and J.C. Penney, which closed in 2015, as online sales continue to sap life from bricks-and-mortar retailers. Both of those spaces, however, have since been redeveloped and are occupied by new stores, with the exception of what was Penney’s upper story.

Another former anchor, Younkers, also a Bon-Ton brand, closed in 2002. It was briefly converted into a second Boston Store location within Regency.

Although not part of Regency Mall, last month Toys R Us announced it will close all 800 of its U.S. stores, including the one located just north of Regency Mall in front of the High Ridge Center shopping center, which has lost all its tenants except for Home Depot.


GREGORY SHAVER, For The Journal Times  

Steve Tyler returns the ball during a game of pickleball during a two-hour pickleball introductory session Friday morning at the Cesar Chavez Community Center, 2221 Douglas Ave. The learning session was hosted by the Racine Area Pickleball Club. Another introductory session is scheduled for May 4. Reservations are required by sending email to dsponholtz@wi.rr.com or texting 262-498-1717. Class sizes are limited.


Local
Racine riverfront
City moves toward Water Street master redevelopment plan

RACINE — With the buildings on and near the former Machinery Row project site destined for demolition, the city is also taking steps toward the creation of a master redevelopment plan for that 27-acre Downtown area.

The Racine Redevelopment Authority on Thursday unanimously recommended that city staff be directed to issue a request for qualifications, or RFQ, to hire a team of specialists that would — with public involvement — create a master redevelopment plan for the Water Street area. That multidisciplinary team of design and development professionals would have skills in planning, architecture, landscape architecture, market analysis and engineering.

“The goal of this project,” City Development Director Amy Connolly wrote in her briefing memorandum for the RDA, “is to develop a plan that will inspire national-level development interest in the site and lead to its immediate redevelopment.”

Connolly told the RDA she hopes to issue the RFQ on Tuesday, have them in hand by May 9, select a company for the project by June 1 and have a completed master plan by Dec. 31.

In response to questions from RDA member John Crimmings, Connolly said, “Developers love it when they come into a situation where the community knows what it wants. And they don’t have to come in and argue with the community about what they want and their vision. … We may argue over some small details, but the overall vision is something that they would love for us to provide to them.”

She added, “What you want to do is reduce developer risk. … You’ve kind of told them what you want the character of the neighborhood to be.”

Mayor Cory Mason also pointed out that a plan will show potential developers that a public riverwalk is part of the vision for the area, something they may see as adding value. “But they don’t know it’s there if you don’t put it in a plan.”

Master plan elements

According to Connolly’s briefing memo for the RDA, the components of the finished master plan would include:

  • An illustrative design plan for the full 27-acre site including 3-D architectural renderings, with utility and stormwater plans, seawall and geotechnical plans and a staging/phasing plan.
  • Site development guidelines including building heights, façade standards and architectural design and building materials.
  • A market and absorption strategy with market analysis and strategies for both residential and commercial development, cost estimates for public infrastructure and a yield plan for private development.
  • Schematic plans and cost estimates for a public riverwalk.

Connolly pointed out that with the Machinery Row buildings — former J.I. Case Co. factories from the early 1900s and assorted outbuildings — slated for demolition, designers will have more flexibility in laying out a riverwalk.

“A final version of an RFQ for site development that will attract national-level development interest to the site.”

Information leading to amendments to the existing tax increment district plan for the site.

Creation of a new website to engage the public, allow feedback on the plans and provide planning and construction updates.

Public involvement involving, as examples, interactive workshops or online voting.

Desired outcomes

Among the desired outcomes of creating a master plan, Connolly said, will be that the plan leads to a “maximum private-sector investment in development.”

“The new plan should create a dense, walkable, mixed-use destination neighborhood that connects to the historic Downtown and the transit station,” Connolly wrote.

She said she expects the total project cost to produce the Water Street Development Area master plan would be approximately $150,000 and has been budgeted to come from the intergovernmental revenue fund.

In a related matter, the RDA on Thursday also voted unanimously to recommend hiring K. Singh & Associates at the cost of $135,942 to write specifications for and do construction management for demolition and remediation of the Water Street Reconstruction Area buildings and properties.

“What you want to do is reduce developer risk. … You’ve kind of told them what you want the character of the neighborhood to be.” Amy Connolly, City development director

 

Local
Caledonia
Plans for truck wash at I-94 and Highway K approved

CALEDONIA — A proposal for a truck wash at the southeast corner of Highway K and Interstate 94 has been approved, but with a few stipulations.

The Caledonia Village Board on Monday gave the go-ahead for the proposed Blue Beacon Truck Wash at 13629 Northwestern Ave. (Highway K).

Village Trustee Jay Benkowski said the proposal’s inclusion of a large stone sign at the corner with Caledonia’s logo, which he liked, was a compromise so developers wouldn’t have to add a stone face to its structure. He cited another recently approved project that had agreed to a similar design request.

“We should demand that the build for this building be to the same specifications,” said Benkowski. “Times are different. People are coming to us. We are a hot commodity — we should call the shots.”

In the end, Blue Beacon’s proposal was approved on the condition that developers add stone on the north face of the building, which faces the highway, up to where the precast walls are to be painted blue.

Casey’s decision on hold

Also during Monday’s Village Board meeting, the Citizen’s Reports portion of the agenda was dominated by new and familiar faces voicing their opposition to the proposed Casey’s General Store location at the northeast corner of Four Mile Road and Charles Street.

Resident John Urban asked why Casey’s couldn’t acquire one of the closed gas stations in the Caledonia area instead of building a new one. Heather Doebereiner took issue with the fact that there are other gas stations located nearby.

“This gas station would probably put Four Mile Petroleum (600 Four Mile Road) out of business and then we’ll have another empty gas station,” said Doebereiner.

Many of the opponents again cited concerns about traffic.

A discussion came up over Wisconsin Statute 59.69(5e)(b)(1) which states, “If an applicant for a conditional use permit meets or agrees to meet all of the requirements and conditions specified in the county ordinance or those imposed by the county zoning board, the county shall grant the conditional use permit. Any condition imposed must be related to the purpose of the ordinance and be based on substantial evidence.”

Troy Carriveau, who owns the lot for the proposed Casey’s, told the board he interprets that statute to say that if the proposal fulfills the existing ordinances, which Casey’s does, the board is required to grant the conditional-use permit.

Caledonia Community Development Authority Chairman Fran Martin, who was elected to the Village Board on Tuesday, argued the statute gave the village grounds for applying conditions, such as shorter operation hours or for denying the application.

Trustee Kathleen Trentadue, who was defeated Tuesday in her quest for re-election, made a motion to do a first and second reading of the proposal and effectively make a final decision. Trustee Kevin Wanggaard suggested putting off the second reading until the next board meeting so the board could consult with the village’s attorney, Elaine Ekes.

“I think we’ve got a lot of people that have done a lot of due diligence of their concerns,” Wanggaard said of the crowd.

The board voted to have the second reading and final vote at its next meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, April 16, at the Village Hall, 5043 Chester Lane.


Jonathan Brines /   

Benkowski