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RACINE — A minimum $50 million, mostly residential construction project of 242 market-rate apartments is planned for the former Walker Manufacturing site along Lake Michigan.

And that’s just phase one.

At a news conference in Mayor Cory Mason’s office Wednesday morning, Mason and staff members shared details of the first phase of a planned redevelopment of the former Walker site, currently considered the city’s prime development opportunity.

In October, Mason and Kevin Newell, president of Milwaukee-based Royal Capital Group, announced an agreement that Newell’s company could develop the site. But no other specifics were divulged.

At the press conference, Mason and Newell announced plans for the Walker site, just north of Pugh Marina at 1129 Michigan Blvd., for the first time.

“Big picture on this: This is the biggest redevelopment project we have seen in this city in probably a generation,” Mason said.

As important, he said, is that this project will be “building a community” and getting local people back to work.

The property lies between Pugh Marina, 1001 Michigan Blvd., the city water treatment plant at 100 Hubbard St., and the lake.

Mason said Royal Capital is buying the city-owned site for $3.2 million. The mayor praised the company as a business partner and for the development work it is doing in connection with the Milwaukee Bucks’ new arena.

Prior to the news conference, Mason, City Administrator Jim Palenick and City Development Director Amy Connolly shared conceptual plans for the first phase of the development named @ North Beach. It is currently expected to consist of:

  • A seven-story apartment building including a two-story parking structure;
  • A five-story apartment building with one story of parking and a total, between the two structures, of 241 parking spaces;
  • A total of 242 market-rate apartments ranging from one to three bedrooms each;
  • A total of 364,666 square feet of new construction; and
  • About 4,400 square feet of retail space, possibly including a restaurant.

The buildings will be certified under the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, or LEED, program, Mason said, and will have some “smart city” components.

“This is a great time to be in Racine,” Newell said after Mason introduced him. “This is an amazing time for the community; you guys have definitely earned this opportunity.

“We came to Racine, out of all the other opportunities we could have chased after in the local market, based upon the leadership here. Being able to work with a mayor and council and staff that gets it, that share the same values that we share, made this partnership viable.”

Mason said phase two is also envisioned to be mostly market-rate housing. “The idea is that we’re really building a neighborhood in here,” he said.

“With walkability; you’re only a block from the lake,” Connolly put in. “Whether you’ve got a lake view or not, you’re still going to have direct access to the lake.”

The Foxconn stimulus

“I’m really excited about it,” Mason said about the @ North Beach plan. “This is the largest residential development we’ve seen in Racine in at least 20 years.”

Mason said the construction project will create 350 jobs. He said the project will be the first done under the Racine Works program, meaning at least 20 percent of the worker hours will have to come from low- to moderate-income Racine residents.

“I’m really excited about getting my hands dirty with the entire team and finding ways to get people to work here,” Newell said.

Connolly said the former brownfield was remediated to industrial standards and given closure by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

For residential development, there are some additional environmental issues to address, but they are not significant, she said. The city is working with Royal Capital on a brownfield cleanup loan, a revolving loan that starts as money from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Phase one is to occupy the easternmost portion, roughly half, of the 9½-acre site. The project, including new infrastructure, is expected to start in spring — both the public infrastructure and private development — and take about 18 months to build, Connolly said.

The Walker site, which was renamed Harborside, comprises a large chunk of what was to have become the Pointe Blue development; that also would have included Pugh Marina. However, that plan self-combusted as the Great Recession was roaring to life.

But Mason pointed out that this is a different economy, and he voiced confidence in Royal Capital. The Milwaukee Bucks selected Royal Capital for the mixed-use housing and retail development that is part of the $1 billion downtown Milwaukee entertainment district that includes Fiserv Forum, which opened in late summer.

“Foxconn has changed everything,” Mason said.

“Pre-Foxconn, we wouldn’t have been here,” Palenick agreed, “and this wouldn’t have happened.”

“I think people are excited about what the possibility of Foxconn means for the future of the city,” Mason said. “And so, what we’re seeing with this project and others is (developers) looking at our waterfront for redevelopment in ways that we haven’t seen in a long time.”

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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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