RACINE — The city is heading toward a sweeping redo of the Machinery Row area with a $6.47 million plan to demolish 15 buildings, redo the riverfront and create 27 acres of clear land for development.
The City Council, meeting as a Committee of the Whole, and Redevelopment Authority on Tuesday evening both voted overwhelmingly in favor of staff recommendations that will remake the old, industrial riverfront area on the edge of Downtown.
Not just the two old J.I. Case Co. buildings that were the subject of the former Machinery Row plan — and assorted outbuildings between Water Street and the river — will be demolished. The demolition plan also includes the four-story former Case Plow Works building at 615 Marquette St. (site of the former Factory of Fear haunted house) and a sprawling former industrial building at 526 Marquette St.
That area is now being called the Water Street Redevelopent Properties.
The plan approved 4-0 by the RDA and 9-1 by City Council members calls for the city to exercise a quit-claim deed with would-be Machinery Row developer Rodney Blackwell of Financial District Properties, to take possession of the 20 acres north of Water Street that he controls. The goal is to do that by Dec. 31 to avoid another year’s property taxes being attached to that land.
There will also be relocation payments to former tenants of some of those buildings, expected to be up to $350,000 in total.
Bids will be let for demolition, which is to be done next year. Meanwhile, next year the public riverfront promenade is proposed to be constructed, at a cost of $2.3 million, and the seawall rebuilt at a cost of about $1 million including planning and engineering.
Plans for the area, which were designed around the two large Case buildings, will be redone for all 27 acres. The twin resolutions adopted Tuesday call for plans that “quantify and effectively market the property to assure the maximum investment and viability of the selected mix, density and configuration of uses, as well as to minimize the requirement for or magnitude of further public investment(s) or incentive(s).”
The council’s vote was a recommendation to itself that still needs a final stamp of approval at a future meeting. Only former mayoral candidate and Alderman Sandy Weidner voted no on Tuesday.
The presentation to the council and RDA contained a slide titled “Why continue to invest?” with six bullet-point answers including:
Getting the property under the single control of the city.
Removing risks for developers and reducing unknowns. That helps support and incentivize development, City Development Director Amy Connolly said.
Being able to fully implement the city’s adopted Root River redevelopment plans.
“Single greatest opportunity to create market-rate development in the city.”
“And when you think about what this property ultimately will offer the city: You’re talking about 27 acres of prime Downtown riverfront,” City Administrator Jim Palenick said.
Developers will know the land can be acquired, know the environmental condition, the old buildings will already be gone, and there will be the public river walk with the amenities attached to it, Palenick said.
Despite how Blackwell stumbled with his Machinery Row plan, “we still have this incredible opportunity,” Palenick added.
At least a couple of times Tuesday it was mentioned that, with Foxconn coming, there will be demand for more housing, and developers will be anticipating that and looking for places to do housing projects.
According to the staff presentation, the expected return on the $6.47 million investment — which is in addition to the roughly $7.4 million the city has spent so far trying to make the Machinery Row project happen — would come from:
Creation of new property taxes through development.
Having new residents shopping in the community.
More new ratepayers for utilities.
Additional jobs from the cleanup and construction.
Improved Root River environmental conditions.
A more walkable urban environment.
And creating a new neighborhood.
The financing plan calls for bonding for the great majority of the $6.47 million in 2018 spending and recouping that money, plus interest, through the Machinery Row tax increment district. In the worst-case scenario, if nothing ever got build on that riverfront land, that money would be repaid from the intergovernmental revenue fund, Palenick said.
A state and a federal grant would supply another $300,000 and $500,000 respectively, and $220,000 would come out of the IG stream. It wasn’t immediately clear Tuesday night how the other $350,000, for tenant relocation expenses, would be funded.