RACINE — The first steps of Regency Mall’s planned rebirth are underway.
This week the mall’s owner, Hull Property Group, is starting its long-anticipated interior renovations at Regency. The Augusta, Ga., company bought the mall in late 2016 for $9.5 million with the intention of turning it around — Hull’s specialty.
Regency Mall, which opened in 1981, has about 700,000 enclosed square feet on 76 acres. It is what Hull executives and owner Jim Hull call a “failed mall.”
HPG has more than 40 years of experience in retail real estate. It has a history of acquiring and repositioning underperforming enclosed malls and shopping centers in small- to mid-size markets. HPG owns 30 regionally enclosed malls in 13 states and 15 shopping centers.
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.
The first step, now underway at Regency is to hide the jail-like vacant storefronts covered by metal caging. HPG replaces those stretches with solid walls which are then covered with murals; historic, iconic community photos; quotes and inspirational messages and so on.
The new walls will have architectural flourishes such as chair rail, crown molding and wainscoting, said John Mulherin, Hull vice president for government relations. He promised a “finished, first-class look.”
On Wednesday, workers from Milwaukee-based Four Brothers Construction were laboring to replace vacant storefronts in the mall’s west end. They will work their way from the west end to the east end.
Last year, HPG executives had hoped to begin renovations in September. But first the City of Racine created a tax-increment district that encompasses the mall and some of the surrounding retail zone, to help with the area’s rehabilitation. Next, HPG had to work out a development agreement with the city. Then bids for the work came in too high, and the project had to be rebid.
By then the holiday shopping season had begun, and Hull had to wait until after Jan. 1 to start renovations.
“Obviously, we want to start renovations and get to our (revitalization) model as soon as possible,” Mulherin said this week. “… We’re excited that we’re able to get it going.”
The interior mall renovations start in the wake of a rash of recent store and kiosk closings at Regency — all but one by HPG’s choosing. The exception is American Eagle Outfitters, a national chain store that will close its Racine location Monday. A clerk at the store said the closing was a corporate decision; the company did not respond to a request for comment or explanation.
Mulherin said Hull “absolutely” would have kept American Eagle in the fold if it could have. “Sustainable success will be with national, branded stores,” he said.
All the other recent or upcoming closings at Regency have been decisions by the mall’s owners and part of Hull’s mall revitalization strategy: Ancient Horizons, a jewelry and gift store; Body 360, a piercing shop; On the Go, a convenience store; New Image, a hair salon; a vitamin B-12 shots store; Jewel Time; and a Metro PCS kiosk.
And A1 Accessories is moving from a kiosk to a mall storefront.
“In any of our malls, we believe in the orchestration of a certain look and feel,” Mulherin explained. Important to that look are long lines of sight, because Hull believes that makes female shoppers feel safer.
“So, we need to eliminate all visual blockers,” Mulherin said. Consequently, the company systematically removes all kiosks as their leases expire. “Wherever conceivable, we want to move them into an in-line store,” he said.
“Other tenants,” Mulherin continued, “through no fault of their own … just don’t comport with what we’re trying to accomplish: a fashion-based mall.”
Other considerations involved in removing certain mall tenants include sales per square foot and how they are merchandised, Mulherin said.
“Unfortunately, there are some stores that don’t meet those criteria of a good, first-class look,” he said.
Despite American Eagle Outfitters’ imminent departure, Mulherin said there will come a time when HPG will try to bring the store back to Regency.
“If we had been able to do this (renovation work) a year ago, I would like to think we would have been able to save American Eagle and some others,” Mulherin said. “They didn’t have a lot of lease time left.”
In addition to replacing vacant storefronts with new walls, the next steps in the interior renovations will be installing new ceilings, Mulherin said. From those they will drop in pendant lighting that will reflect off the ceiling and back down to create a consistent lighting.
HPG will also put in carpet. “It gives you that warmth that you’re looking for,” Mulherin said. The company uses carpet squares that can easily be replaced after spills and such.
HPG will also redo all of the bathrooms. Mulherin estimated the interior makeover will take about 10 to 12 weeks, with much of the work being performed at night.
That will be followed in spring by the start of about 12 weeks of exterior construction including dramatically redesigning the entrances. “We beef them up, give them some verticality, some prominence,” Mulherin said. Pavers may be added outside the doors to “make it very welcoming.”
“The whole point is to orchestrate a new look and feel that gives momentum,” Mulherin said.
“That’s the expensive but easy part,” he said about the coming physical transformation.
“The tough part is finding the new tenants.”
But Mulherin said with Foxconn Technology Group planning to build a new, $10 billion manufacturing campus in Mount Pleasant, HPG thinks that bodes well for the mall here.
“Will we dominate again like (Regency) did in ’82?” Mulherin asked rhetorically. “Absolutely not. But we think we can be competitive. We can be viable, we can be relevant again.”
RACINE — A Racine bar that was the site of a New Year’s Day shooting could lose its liquor license.
A man was shot at Curmudgeon’s Pub & Grill, 3458 Rapids Drive, in the early hours of the new year, Racine police said at the time. The Public Safety and Licensing Committee recommended this week that the City Council require the license holder to appear for a due process hearing. Per Racine’s ordinances, a city panel must hold such a hearing before suspending or revoking a liquor license, which allows the opportunity to present testimony before any discipline is imposed.
The City Council is expected to vote on the committee’s recommendation at its next meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall.
Assistant City Attorney Nhu Tran said the shooting this month was the most recent incident at the bar, but that Curmudgeon’s has presented issues “for quite some time.”
City records show a representative of the bar was asked to appear in May last year because of incidents at the establishment. An officer indicated police had been called to Curmudgeon’s 23 times in the past year for issues such as fights in the parking lot, meeting minutes state.
The due process hearing was recommended on the grounds that the license holder maintains a “disorderly or riotous, indecent or improper house,” according to minutes of this week’s meeting.
Attempts to contact the bar’s management for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful.
The due process hearing recommendation comes amid discussion of proposed changes to that system.
City Attorney Scott Letteney presented a recommendation in December that Racine replace its existing process with two main changes. First, his office recommended creating a demerit point tracking system to set an objective standard that would trigger a due process hearing. Second, he recommended moving the function of holding that hearing to a separate board and away from the Public Safety and Licensing Committee.
That switch, Letteney has said, could protect the city from accusations that committee members made up their minds about revoking or suspending the license before the hearing occurred.
The Committee of the Whole most recently discussed the proposal in December but tabled the conversation without any action. A meeting is scheduled for Feb. 6 to revisit the issue.
If the City Council votes to hold a due process hearing for Curmudgeon’s, Tran said, the existing system would apply.
A representative of King Daddies II told the committee this week that the bar is looking for a new location after the owner of its previous building, which was on 16th Street, sold it to S.C. Johnson.
Lavonda Perkins was originally asked to appear at the meeting to provide an update on the status of its business, which had closed for renovations, according to the agenda. A city ordinance requires businesses with alcohol licenses to operate continuously.
The committee this week deferred action on the issue until Feb. 27 to give Perkins time to set up in a new location, minutes show.
RACINE — The Wisconsin Legislature in 2017 endured a grueling budget fight, gave approval of the Foxconn Technology Group incentive package and provided increases to education funding — to name a few highlights. Now, going into 2018, Republican lawmakers are looking to pass an ambitious agenda.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and State Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, stopped by The Journal Times Editorial Board on Wednesday to discuss the upcoming session.
Vos said the Legislature is going to be “very aggressive” on welfare reforms including food stamps, BadgerCare and housing assistance.
“If you are able-bodied and you’re getting benefits, we certainly don’t want to cut off your benefits; we want to give you more of a chance to earn a wage so you don’t need them,” Vos said.
Currently, once an individual reaches 100 percent of the federal poverty level, benefits are cut off.
What Vos is looking to do in the state Assembly is having a tiered system to allow benefits to be phased out over time for individuals who get work but still need some assistance.
Last year, Vos established a task force to look at improving the foster care system. With opioid addiction continuing to be an issue, children with addicted parents are often caught moving in and out of foster care.
“We have to do something with foster care because it’s directly tied to this huge opioid crisis,” Vos said.
Vos added that the bipartisan task force is preparing 13 bills to improve foster care including some that may attract younger couples to consider being foster parents and helping pay for some of the foster child’s costs.
“I thought the answer was going to be more money,” Vos said.
Instead he heard that foster parents would rather have funding for onetime expenses, like braces for their foster children, for instance.
“I thought it was a great idea,” he said.
Creating more affordable housing has landed on the Assembly’s radar.
Vos said officials have been working on two bills to give aid to those looking for shelter or building apartments and houses.
“It is a huge problem in a lot of parts of the state,” Vos said about finding affordable housing.
Another issue is developing affordable housing and one bill looks to give aid to those looking to develop properties.
Vos said these properties would be for what he sees as traditional housing that middle income families can afford.
Other topics being taken up by the Assembly are association health care, which could allow groups like Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce to offer health care to its members, and increasing funding for a marketing campaign to attract young people to the state “because we don’t have enough young people.”
On the State Senate side, Wanggaard said he’s going to focus on human trafficking.
“We are becoming a central point for that in the Racine, Kenosha, Milwaukee area,” Wanggaard said, adding that as of the end of November there have been 400 arrests of sexual predators in the state.
Wanggaard said he’s working on a bill that would help law enforcement search hotels where human trafficking is occurring.
One piece of legislation that will likely get a lot of attention is Wanggaard’s proposal to fight drunken driving.
Wanggaard looks to pass a “four strikes” bill that would take away driver licenses “for life” for anyone convicted of two OWI charges in addition to two other OWI incidents, like causing injury by intoxicated use.
“If the number reaches four and you’re driving, you’re going to go to jail and it’s going to be a $2,500 fine and your license is gone for life,” Wanggaard said. “This will get their attention.”
Wanggaard said if an individual did get his or her license taken away, that person can become eligible to reapply to get it back by going 10 years without any incidents and meeting other criteria, “but basically your license is gone for life.”