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RACINE — Reinvigorating the Regency Mall area, possibly with the inclusion of new housing, is the goal of a new city initiative.

The city Redevelopment Authority Thursday evening unanimously recommended hiring Jerry Franke’s firm, Franke Development Advisors, and Rinka Architects of Milwaukee to create a plan for the undeveloped areas at and around Regency Mall.

In a briefing memorandum, City Administrator Jim Palenick recommended hiring Franke and Rinka for six months, through June 30. They would work with Regency Mall’s owners, Hull Property Group “and the investment and development community in the region, in order to develop and market a redevelopment/reinvestment plan for this important retail center.”

In his memorandum, Palenick wrote: “The Regency Mall property, along with multiple, large-scale, retail properties adjacent or adjoining thereto, have struggled in recent years with retail bankruptcies, high vacancy rates and a vastly and negatively altered retail environment — as shoppers have moved away from malls and big-box stores.”

Palenick wrote that “in light of the Foxconn announcement, we … expect heightened demand in the area for quality, multifamily housing along with adjacent amenities and lifestyle service opportunities.

“With all this said,” he continues, “and seeing how developers have achieved significant success with mixed-use, ‘town center’ style developments like Drexel Town Center in Oak Creek, we believe (City and the Hull Group) that the timing is critical to both plan for and market a reimagined retail and mixed-use center in these areas to best bring sustainable economic vitality and investment back.”

Franke, formerly the head of Wispark, Wisconsin Energy Corp.’s real estate development arm, spearheaded the development of Drexel Town Center and Drexel Town Square in Oak Creek, Palenick said.

If approved, Franke would be hired for $31,500 and Rinka at a cost of $118,750. Hull would pay half of Rinka’s cost, making the city’s total outlay $90,875, money that would come from the intergovernmental (IG) shared revenue fund.

Study areas

“Hull Property Group has continuously been working with the City of Racine on a redevelopment plan of the Regency Mall for the past year, said John Mulherin, Hull’s vice president for government relations. “Phase I of its redevelopment plan, which includes the renovation and stabilization of the mall, has been completed.

“With the advent of the Boston Store closing and Hull Property Group’s acquisition of that property,” Mulherin continued, “the opportunity to reimagine Phase II of the redevelopment plan has presented itself. The City of Racine and Hull Property Group are contracting with consultants to help determine the viability of alternative paths created by the purchase of the Boston Store.”

In addition to the 11-acre former Boston Store property, Palenick said Friday that Franke and Rinka would be asked to study:

  • The former Marcus Theatre property on the northwest corner of the mall’s land;
  • The former Chi-Chi’s Mexican Restaurant site on the southeast corner at Highway 11 and Roosevelt Avenue;
  • A long rectangular strip of parking lot running along the mall’s south end.

Detailed master plans would be created for those areas, Palenick said.

He said the city would also ask for a less detailed, conceptual plan for the large, mostly vacant High Ridge Centre property to the north of Regency Mall — a property which is in bankruptcy. That way, if there is future developer interest in the area, the city would be able to share those ideas in relation to what will happen at and around Regency Mall.

‘Tens of millions’ in return

Palenick’s memo to the RDA states that city policy on the use of IG funds requires at least a five-to-one return on money used from that source. In the case of hiring Franke and Rinka, that would necessitate a return of more than about $454,000. But city staff thinks that would be a cinch.

“We believe the use of … IG is entirely appropriate in this case because (the money) will go toward furthering what we believe can ultimately be tens of millions in new investment in exchange for a relatively modest, one-time expense for high-quality, conceptual and design plans, along with the marketing and development skills to recruit and solicit he developers who will put such plans and investment in place,” Palenick wrote.

He requested, and the RDA recommended, the “sole-source” hiring of Franke and Rinka — meaning the work would not be put out for bids — because of their expertise and track record. While Franke was with Wispark, in Racine County it developed Gaslight Pointe in Downtown Racine, Grandview Industrial Park in Yorkville and DeBack Farms Business Park in Caledonia. Gaslight Pointe, built on formerly contaminated land, consists of 15 townhomes, 52 condominiums, more than 100 boat slips, a hotel and restaurant, the One Main Centre office building and the parking ramp on Gaslight Drive.

The RDA’s recommendation is scheduled to go to the city Finance and Personnel Committee on Jan. 21 and the City Council on Feb. 5.

If accepted, the entire, detailed area plan would be due by June 30, Palenick said.

“Seeing how developers have achieved significant success with mixed-use, ‘town center’ style developments like Drexel Town Center in Oak Creek, we believe that the timing is critical to both plan for and market a reimagined retail and mixed-use center in these areas to best bring sustainable economic vitality and investment back.” Racine City Administrator Jim Palenick

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Reporter

Michael "Mick" Burke covers business and the Village of Sturtevant. He is the proud father of two daughters and owner of a fantastic, although rug-chewing, German shepherd dog.

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