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New $18M project planned for Uptown at Ajax site

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.

Christina Lieffring / CHRISTINA LIEFFRING 

From left, Sam Jorudd, Leah Zinnen and Andrew Kawalec rehearse their roles as Gomez, Morticia and Uncle Fester in Burlington High School's upcoming spring musical "The Addams Family." The show runs the weekends of March 9-11 and March 16-18. Shows on Friday and Saturday start at 7 p.m. and Sundays start at 2 p.m at Burlington High School, 400 McCanna Parkway. 

Artists' lineup announced for Animal Crackers Concert Series

RACINE — The Racine Zoo has announced the artist lineup for the 2018 Animal Crackers Concert Series, which kicks off on July 11 at the zoo grounds, 2131 N. Main St.

“These Animal Crackers concerts are so much fun each year. We are really looking forward to this upcoming Series with a fantastic lineup,” said Amber Olsen, special events/sales manager for the zoo. “These concerts really do benefit the zoo and it’s just one more fun and exciting thing to do this summer in Racine.”

Scheduled to open the season on Wednesday, July 11, is the Milwaukee Jazz Orchestra with special guest Michelle Coltrane.

Curt Hanrahan is the head of jazz studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He co-founded the Lakeshore Conservatory of Music in Racine and performs with the Milwaukee Symphony. Hanrahan has worked with artists such as Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Cab Calloway, the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, Harry Connick Jr. and many others.

The MJO was born out of Hanrahan’s involvement with the annual Woody Herman Jazz Festival about five years ago, assembling alumni to guest at the festival every year and began putting a local big band together. Hanrahan’s son Tim, a bassist, graduated from school with a jazz studies degree and along with Curt’s brother Warren on drums, they have put a family band together.

Coltrane, born in Paris, is the only daughter of the legendary jazz saxophonist John Coltrane and his wife, Alice, a renowned jazz pianist. While living in Japan, Michelle worked as a disc jockey. She performed and arranged background vocals for prominent artists. She has toured the U.S. and France as a soloist and has performed with such artists as Kenny Kirkland, Jeff Watts, Ronnie Laws, Billy Childs, Jack DeJohnette, Marvin Smitty Smith and Reggie Workman.

During the late 1990s, Michelle co-hosted a radio program broadcast on Wisconsin Public Radio for five years. Michelle’s new band is a collaboration with guitarist and music director Shea Welsh. Michelle and Shea have composed new material and are arranging new and classic standards to create the band’s unique modern and retro sound.

July 25

The Wednesday, July 25, performance is scheduled to consist of three soulful jazz artists; Jackiem Joyner, Matt Marshak and Brian Simpson.

Jackiem Joyner’s musical talents stemmed from his bass-playing father, Jackie Charles Smith, singing in his church choir as a young man, as well as playing the saxophone in high school. At the young age of 21, Joyner became the “saxman” for Marcus Johnson.

A New York-based guitarist, Marshak brings a unique, one-of-a-kind, style of guitar playing to the stage. His repertoire is an eclectic blend of jazz, urban groove, pop, funk, R&B, world beat and more. His style and sound have led him across the globe performing at some of the world’s biggest jazz festivals. He has performed on the same festival bills with legends such as Santana, Larry Carlton, George Benson and many more.

Brian Simpson is not only a talented keyboardist, but also is a music composer as well as a producer. Simpson’s expressive playing, sophisticated harmonics, bluesy overtones and R&B soulful approach to music has made him first call for many, including Janet Jackson, Teena Marie, George Duke, Stanley Clarke and Dave Koz.

Aug. 8

Scheduled to perform on Wednesday, Aug. 8, is Karrin Allyson. Allyson lives in New York City, but originally hails from Great Bend, Kansas. Allyson received her degree in classical piano performance with important stints in Minneapolis and Kansas City, where she began her recording career with Concord Jazz.

Allyson sings in English, French, Portuguese, Italian and Spanish. The songs she performs are drawn from a variety of genres, such as samba, blues, bebop, and jazz standards. Allyson received five Grammy nominations for Best Jazz Vocal Album from 2001 to 2015.

Aug. 22

Wrapping up the Animal Crackers Concert Series on Wednesday, Aug. 22, is international jazz recording artist Eric Darius with special guest Gerald Veasley.

An American contemporary jazz/R&B/pop saxophonist, vocalist, songwriter, producer and educator, Dairus grew up listening to Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Earth Wind and Fire, and so many others. He developed a love for music at a young age. At the age of 17, Darius released his first independent album titled “Cruisin’,” which launched his professional career and instantly he became one of the new faces of Jazz.

Scheduled as special guest that night is Gerald Veasley. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Veasley played in multiple R&B groups as a teenager. Veasley’s musical talent has taken him to the top of the contemporary music world as a bassist, bandleader, composer, producer, educator and curator.

Veasley has recorded or performed with many of the world’s top artists in jazz, R&B and gospel, including McCoy Tyner, The Jaco Pastorius Big Band and Gerald Levert.

Gates for Animal crackers concerts open at 5:30 p.m., with concerts beginning at 7 p.m. Season tickets are on sale through March 31 for $60. Individual tickets are $25. For more information, visit the Racine Zoo website at

GREGORY SHAVER, gregory.shaver@j 

Park's Nobal Days shoots the ball over Milwaukee Marquette's Ryan Coffey during first half action of a WIAA boys basketball sectional semifinal between Park and Milwaukee Marquette Thursday evening, March 10, 2016, at Case High School.

Shannon family says DA will decide by March 13 on report release

RACINE — The family of Donte Shannon might have to wait another week before finding out if the Racine police officers involved in the death of Shannon could be charged.

It has been more than a week since the Racine County District Attorney’s Office received the investigation from the state Department of Justice about the Jan. 17 fatal shooting. On that date, Donte Shannon was shot and killed by police officers after allegedly fleeing a traffic stop and brandishing a handgun.

On Monday morning, Nakia Shannon, father of Donte, said he briefly spoke with District Attorney Tricia Hanson, who told him she plans to have a decision by March 13.

“She told me the report wasn’t done being read and she legally can’t talk to me now because I have an attorney and she will contact me when everything is done,” Nakia Shannon said. “They finally got the autopsy report to her desk (Monday morning).”

The Journal Times contacted the District Attorney’s Office to confirm the March 13 date but the request to answer the question was declined. Hanson has said she will talk with the family first about her decision before making it public.

In the past, the family has expressed interest in paying for their own autopsy, but Shannon said they have to wait until the results of the first autopsy have been released.

When the report is released, Shannon said he plans on reading through the report with an attorney, family and friends.

“I got a task force ready to sit down and start reading everything,” Shannon said. “We’re going to make copies of everything and start reading. We’re going to peel through it.”

Son’s death a ‘wake-up call’

On Feb. 5, a federal suit was filed on behalf of the Shannon family against the officers involved in the shooting and the City of Racine. The case alleges Donte Shannon’s civil rights were violated in the encounter that ended in the 26-year-old’s death.

The Wisconsin Professional Police Association, which has stated it is representing the officers, has described the lawsuit as premature.

“Given that the independent investigation into this matter has not yet concluded, this lawsuit seems woefully premature and based more upon groundless and inflammatory accusations than actual evidence,” WPPA Executive Director Jim Palmer said by email. “The officers have voluntarily cooperated with the ongoing external review and believe that the facts will speak for themselves.”

Nakia Shannon said his son’s death was a “wake-up call” and despite similar cases around the country resulting in police officers not being charged, he plans to keep fighting if the district attorney decides not to pursue charged.

“It tells me, good or bad, if Tricia Hanson doesn’t make the right decision to charge them, I’m not going to stop here,” Shannon said. “I’m going to the federal court, if the federal court decides not to charge him, I’m going to the Supreme Court. I have nothing but time to make sure I get the justice my son deserves.”