SOMERS — Since the announcement in August that Foxconn is coming to Racine County, all eyes have been on Mount Pleasant. But just to the south in the Village of Somers, some are keeping a wary eye on the development area.
While Mount Pleasant and Racine County have been bracing for the largest business development in state history, Kenosha County and Somers have been making preparations of their own for the massive development.
Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser said he has been in communication with Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave and officials at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation about the work that is planned for Highway KR, which is to be transformed from a two-lane rural highway into a six-lane highway between Interstate 94 and Highway 31.
“When you have this big of a project, there’s going to be some bumps, but we’re trying to minimize the bumps,” said Kreuser, the county’s chief elected official for a decade and former state legislator.
Kreuser said “it’s a different ballgame in Somers right now,” adding that the village is in a good position to benefit from Foxconn.
“We’re going to be looking at making more safety improvements on some of our own roadways that were probably on the back burner, that now — with more traffic — we ought to be more cognizant about over time,” Kresuer said.
State Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Salem Lakes, whose district includes the portion of Somers near Foxconn, said the work being done on the roads in the area is one of the quickest-moving projects “the area has ever seen.”
“The first concern is the roads and making sure information gets out to the residents about different detours and closures,” Kerkman said. “Things are moving quickly on so many different fronts.”
Kerkman said Kenosha County has seen an increase in development in general. The Amazon distribution center in the City of Kenosha and the Uline facilities in Pleasant Prairie and Kenosha are examples. Kerkman noted that while Foxconn is “a major addition, but it’s an addition to everything we’ve been working on.”
Kreuser added: “We’re getting to the point where development is ramped up at a fast pace and developers are coming in with significant money for economic development.”
While Foxconn-affected Mount Pleasant residents are receiving some compensation for their property and relocation benefits, residents of Somers near the project area are left on their own to make difficult decisions with no support from outside agencies.
Penny Johansen and her family don’t know if they are going to sell their house in Somers or stay for now.
With two kids out of the house, one kid about to graduate high school and the youngest finishing freshman year at Indian Trail High School with aspirations of going to medical school, a home that was meant for six people is going to feel a little empty.
“We can’t sell this viably as residential property because we’re still underwater and nobody is going to want this place as a residential (property) next to that,” Johansen said, gesturing toward Highway KR where the Foxconn plans to build its massive manufacturing campus.
Johansen and her husband bought their home in Somers, which sits on six acres of land at the intersection of 72nd Avenue and Highway KR, in 2001 for $209,000. In 2006, the property was at its highest value — $509,000 — after they put about $200,000 worth of work into the house.
“Then the economy tanked and we almost lost this place because my husband was laid off for a year,” Johansen said. “It ate up our savings and I even cashed in my 401(k).”
Now the property is worth about $360,000 with a $500,000 mortgage and the Johansens are deciding on their next move.
“It’s really tearing us apart; what do we do? Do we cut our losses and sell this place?” Johansen said. “Do we pull the (youngest) kid out of school? Or do we sit on this for four years, let our son graduate and then our (property) value will be through the roof but also what we’re trying to buy is going through the roof.”
On the south side of Highway KR and just slightly east of I-94 is Oakdale Estates, a manufactured home community with mostly retired residents.
Judy Stark, 73, and Jerry Mouw, 76, have been living there together since the mid-1980s.
“This has been a pretty good, quiet neighborhood here, but I don’t think it will be with a factory right across the highway,” Stark said in reference to Foxconn. “I like the country. I like it out here now. It’s not going to be country.”
For the people concerned about the traffic, Mouw said it won’t be as bad as people think.
“Everybody gets shook up about it,” Mouw said. “It won’t bother me. We got that same sound at night, trucks and everything. You get used to it.”
Neither Stark nor Mouw say they’re going to move, unlike their neighbor David Salerno.
“We’re looking to move,” Salerno said, adding that he and his wife moved to Oakdale Estates when they retired. “I just assumed (Foxconn) would go to Janesville. Now I have to go a little further out so I can live in peace and quiet.”
Salerno, who has a a sign on his door that reads “No Democrats or Liberals allowed,” said despite the project affecting him directly, he is happy Republican leaders like Gov. Scott Walker, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and House Speaker Paul Ryan brought Foxconn to the area.
“It’s not a bad thing. It’s bringing money in, it’s bringing jobs in,” Salerno said. “It’ll be good for the area, it’s just not going to be good for me.”
Johansen, who said she has voted for both President Barack Obama and Donald Trump, said it has affected her views regarding the November gubernatorial election.
“Unfortunately President Trump is a businessman, I think he’s a really good businessman, but he’s looking at these big corporate companies making money instead of looking out for the little guy like us,” Johansen said. “I think Gov. Walker seriously has an agenda … I will not vote for him because of this.”
The Somers governments, town and village, have begun having monthly meetings about the Foxconn project. Johansen went to the first meeting on May 1 and said there was “a lot of tap-dancing” and felt that there were many questions left unanswered.
Mark Molinaro, chairman for the Town of Somers, which works closely with the larger Village of Somers, said he encourages residents to be part of the discussion.
“I don’t care what the issue is, how big or how small, there’s always going to be the criticism that people are left in the dark,” Molinaro said. “The information is there to be had. The opportunities are there to be heard and be part of the conversation. You simply have to make the effort.”
Molinaro understands the Foxconn project is “going to be a significant disruption” for the people that live in the area but it is “a worthwhile deal.”
“There’s an awful lot of conversation out there … and questions are being asked about available land, what type of development the village would support in certain areas,” Molinaro said. “And we need to be prepared to move quickly but with a very well-thought-out plan for how we want to see that development materialize.”
One area that gets Johansen emotional is the loss of farmland like hers.
“It’s terrible,” Johansen said. “It’s not like you can knock those factories down and start those family farms again. It’s never going to be the way that it used to be.”
“It’s really tearing us apart, what do we do? Do we cut our losses and sell this place?” Somers resident Penny Johansen
“When you have this big of a project there’s going to be some bumps but we’re trying to minimize the bumps.” Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser
RACINE — After a bitter winter and a hot-and-cold spring, some Racine-area residents might be looking forward to a consistently hot summer and the SC Johnson Aquatic Center plans to be available for them.
The aquatic center at Pritchard Park is scheduled to be open to the public on June 2, just over a week before the end of the school year for the Racine Unified School District.
The Aquatic Center is being built with a $6.5 million donation by SC Johnson in hopes of increasing the quality of life for county residents.
While construction on the project seems to be moving smoothly, there are a few operational details that need to be ironed out before the big opening.
On May 8, the Racine County Board introduced a resolution for first reading that could authorize the county to enter into an agreement with the Racine Family YMCA on how day-to-day operations will be managed.
According to a draft of the agreement, the terms of the deal would be in effect from Wednesday through Sept. 30. It is unlikely the agreement will be approved by the board before Wednesday, and would be applied retroactively.
The draft of the agreement states that the YMCA “shall be responsible for the operation, care, custody and control including all daily and routine maintenance and repairs of all personal property and all real property and fixtures within the SC Johnson Aquatic Center.” Also, the YMCA plans to pay all utilities.
The county, according to the draft of the agreement, is responsible for major repairs, such as structural repairs and will make sure the facility has all the necessary permits as required by state, local and federal laws before it is open to the public.
The County Board plans to vote on the agreement before the June 2 deadline.
RACINE — The Boston Store in Regency Mall is a block away from the Toys ‘R’ Us on South Green Bay Road, and while they sell different items, they share the same fate and the same sign — “going out of business.”
With separate announcements from both retail chains that the overall company was planning to close each store, one Racine area seemed to have gotten hit twice.
“We hope that it will open the eyes of the people in our community to let them know that people are willing to go to other cities and other states to shop at the same stores,” Marie Hargrove said on Sunday after shopping at Boston Store. “But our stores are closing and there’s got to be some kind of reason for that.”
Hargrove said she primarily went to Boston Store to shop for clothing for herself and for gifts.
“We’ll have to travel to other cities and other states to get the things that we should be able to get right here at home,” she said.
Marie’s husband, Pastor Melvin Hargrove, said he is not much of a shopper but recognizes the importance a store like Boston Store has in the community.
“It’s always sad to see an economic driver leave the city,” Melvin Hargrove said. “My prayer is that they’ll be able to put something in its place to continue to keep things so far as the economic piece of it.”
David Thompson also was at Boston Store and said “it’s a shame” the store is closing.
“I hate to see these anchor stores leave these regional malls like this,” Thompson said. “It’s one of the few places here in Racine where people can come and shop.”
While more people tend to do their shopping online, Thompson said, he understands why stores like these are closing.
“It’s a sign of the times as people gravitate online,” Thompson said. “It makes you wonder what Pleasant Prairie is doing that Racine isn’t doing. They seem to be booming down there, but we’re not attracting new business up here.”
Kassondra Baas went shopping at Toys ‘R’ Us with her 7-year-old daughter Kelly on Sunday.
Baas said a store like Toys ‘R’ Us is helpful for parents especially.
“It is more important than you would think because these kinds of stores like Toys ‘R’ Us, have things that your Walmart and Kmarts and everything don’t have,” Baas said. “And not everybody wants to shop online.”
Baas said having Toys ‘R’ Us and Boston Store closing is “devastating,” and it’s a feeling that is not lost on her daughter.
“She’s pretty upset,” Baas said of her daughter’s feelings about the store closing. “They have the majority of stuff that you’re looking for.”
Baas said she is not sure where she’s going to go to find a replacement for Toys ‘R’ Us and that her family will “probably just have to make do with what (stores) we have.”
“It makes you wonder what Pleasant Prairie is doing that Racine isn’t doing. They seem to be booming down there, but we’re not attracting new business up here.” David Thompson, Racine resident