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Redevelopment plan
$40M Downtown housing, hotel announced

RACINE — A development of about 190 market-rate apartments and a five-story hotel — an investment of more than $40 million — is proposed for a key Downtown redevelopment site.

At his office Tuesday morning, Mayor Cory Mason announced a partnership with Hovde Properties of Madison to build on the former We Energies property at 233 Lake Ave., the southeast corner of Lake Avenue and Gaslight Drive.

The project includes two multistory apartment buildings, a hotel, a green central courtyard and an enclosed parking structure with a total value exceeding $40 million when completed.

Mason said of the plan: “It provides two things that we need more of: market-rate housing and hotel space, so it seems a good fit for the site.”

The 3.5-acre property was previously proposed as the site for a $46 million arena/event center with attached hotel, but Mason vetoed the plan upon taking office in late 2017, as he had promised during his campaign.

Hovde Properties does both commercial and housing development. Hovde is set to ask the Redevelopment Authority of Racine, which owns the property, for an exclusive purchase option for the Lake Avenue property and an access agreement that would run through April 2020.

Depending on the results of the development evaluation, construction could begin as soon as spring of 2020 with the first phase of housing scheduled to be delivered by the summer of 2021.

“With developments like this, Racine will be the community of choice for people to work, live and play in southeastern Wisconsin,” Mason stated.

About 190 apartments

As currently envisioned, the housing would take the form of two multistory apartment buildings. The larger structure would be an L-shape building with its point to the northeast, running along both Gaslight Drive to the north and Gaslight Circle to the east. The smaller of the two would occupy the south side of the site.

During Mason’s press conference at his office Tuesday, Randy Guenther, chief operating officer and chief financial officer of Hovde Properties, said the combined number of apartments would be about 190.

Each apartment building would be four to five stories tall, he said — not counting the square, one-story parking structure at street level that both apartment buildings and the hotel would be built above.

The apartment buildings would have a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two bedroom units, as well as a dedicated amenity building, workout facility, club room and outdoor activity centers. The multifamily buildings would be owned and managed by Hovde Properties with onsite management.

The hotel is expected to be developed in partnership with Hovde Properties by a separate owner/operator. It is projected to accommodate about 100 guest rooms as well as, potentially, a restaurant.

In response to a question about the possibility of rooftop dining, Guenther replied: “We definitely have had those discussions; we think that would be a great amenity, specifically for the hotel. We are in discussions with several groups, and a restaurant concept and potentially a rooftop-type area is definitely a consideration. We think that would be great, too.”

The hotel brand has not been determined, but it would be a typical limited-service hotel such as a Hampton Inn or Hilton Garden Inn, City Administrator Jim Palenick said.

Guenther said Hovde is in discussions with different potential hotel operators.

Mason said Eric Hovde and his people seem excited about where the property lies, between two Foxconn properties, and how they might include “smart city” ideas in this development.

Site history

During the 19th century, the site was a manufactured-gas plant, where coal and other ingredients were heated in large brick ovens to make a gas fuel that was used to light homes, businesses and street lamps.

Because of that past, the site was polluted, and later thoroughly cleaned by We Energies. The utility then sold the land to the RDA in 2013 for $150,000. The site still contains groundwater monitoring wells that a developer must take into account.

“Because of that system that’s still in place, the site is a lot more difficult to develop than it would normally be,” City Development Director Amy Connolly said.

Hovde Properties would pay $40,000 for the purchase option and begin a study of the site’s physical characteristics and other issues. The announcement said Hovde expects to spend approximately $200,000 in due diligence explorations on the site.

No purchase price for the land has yet been negotiated, Connolly said.

Hovde Properties is a third-generation private, family-owned company founded in 1933 which develops, owns and manages properties for long-term investment. Eric Hovde’s brother Steve Hovde is chairman and CEO of Hovde Group which includes Hovde Properties.

Hovde Properties is evaluating 233 Lake Ave. in conjunction with CG Schmidt as the general contractor, Kahler Slater as the architect and GRAEF as the project engineer.

Encouraging worker-friendly practices: Proposal awards contractors points when bidding

RACINE — Contractors that adopt worker-friendly practices — from hiring felons, to job training, to family leave and breastfeeding accommodations — could get a leg up when bidding for city contracts.

A social responsibility ordinance, proposed by 9to5 Wisconsin and Keep Families First, was introduced by Aldermen John Tate II of the 3rd District and Mollie Jones of the 2nd District and is making its way through the committee process.

At the Public Works and Services committee meeting, which Tate chairs, City Attorney Scott Letteney asked for more time so that his office can work through a draft ordinance Tate submitted on Monday.

Tate said that he would also like to have time to ensure the program works in conjunction with the city’s existing Racine Works program, which was recently updated to require contractors to hire City of Racine residents as 20% of their workforce for city projects.

Mayor Cory Mason also pointed out that the city is in the process of hiring a public works commissioner after Mark Yehlen’s retirement in April, and that the city also will need to hire a purchasing agent since Kathy Kasper is leaving at the end of May. Those hired to fill those positions would be the primary enforcers of the potential policy.

The committee decided to defer, giving Tate and the City Attorney’s office six weeks to work through a draft ordinance. That draft would next be brought back to Public Works and Services.

Incentivizing ‘good workplace policies’

9to5 Wisconsin advocates for “policies that help working families across the state.” The organization promoted the “ban the box” initiative in 2017 that removed the question of whether an applicant for a City of Racine job had been convicted of a felony.

Under the social responsibility ordinance, a contractor would receive extra points when bidding for a city contract if it:

  • Offers paid sick leave and family and medical leave;
  • Offers breastfeeding accommodations;
  • Does not ask applicants about their felony record, and hires felons;
  • Provides child care;
  • Pays living wages;
  • Accommodates pregnancies;
  • Allows collective bargaining;
  • Allows flexible scheduling.

The City of Milwaukee adopted a “socially responsible contractors” ordinance in December.

Tate pointed out at the meeting that his draft is designed to be more carrot than stick; incentivizing employers to put those practices into place rather than punishing those that don’t.

At last week’s City Council meeting, about a half-dozen people spoke on the proposed ordinance, including 9to5 member and Racine resident Mary Pirrello.

“Racine would share in this shining example with the City of Milwaukee to inspire at the state level what good work place policies look like,” Pirrello said. “Let’s be that inspirational leadership for the rest of the city, county and state to follow in the employment arena by adopting these good workplace solutions, as we move away from that legacy of being the third-worst place for African Americans and toward becoming the best place for African Americans, and all community members, to live.”

Ola Baiyewu, executive director of First Choice, voiced support for the kinds of workplaces the program is attempting to promote, but also voiced caution about the ordinance.

“I agree with the social responsibility ordinance, but you have to step very carefully,” Baiyewu said. “Even though this ordinance will not be mandatory, I want you to look very carefully. We do not want employers to pick and choose who are winners and who are losers.”

Highway KR Widening
County Board approves Highway KR widening

YORKVILLE — The Racine County Board on Tuesday night overwhelmingly passed the resolution authorizing methods including eminent domain to acquire land for widening a 2.8-mile stretch of Highway KR.

The 19-2 vote largely puts an end to months of back-and-forth between Mount Pleasant and Somers residents and Racine and Kenosha counties. Kenosha County passed its own resolution with a 14-7 vote on April 16. Both counties’ resolutions will now go to the state Department of Administration for final approval.

The project, funded by $59 million from the state Department of Transportation for design and construction, will widen the road from two to four lanes from 400 feet east of Highway H to just east of Old Green Bay Road while adding a 30- to 36-feet raised median, overpasses for the Union Pacific and Canadian Pacific railroads, a multiuse path, a turn lane and wider shoulders.

Land-acquisition costs will be taken on by the counties. Racine County’s land costs are estimated at $2.5 million, split between 2019 and 2020 with a further $125,000 for compensable utility costs.

About two dozen property owners on both sides of the highway stand to lose land to the revamped roadway, and five structures in Mount Pleasant are set to be torn down to make way for the Canadian Pacific Railroad overpass. The plat approved by the County Board calls for the acquisition of 18.25 acres of land.


County supervisors Fabi Maldonado and Melissa Kaprelian-Becker, both of Racine, voted against the Racine County resolution.

Maldonado said he was hesitant to vote against it because he saw the value in the proposed improvements, but is also sensitive to eminent-domain issues because his family lost property to the process.

Kaprelian-Becker expressed concern that the expanded roadway would lead to environmental issues, especially in the Pike River, but said she was fully in support of the improvements.

Some residents in the project area took issue over the past several months with the size and scope of the project, and also voiced concerns that the speed limit will not be lowered from 45 mph to 35 mph.

A consistent group of locals from both Mount Pleasant and Somers — at times numbering more than 100 — showed up to Racine and Kenosha county meetings to speak against the plans in the past few months, but only a few attended Tuesday night’s meeting.

“Many of our group are not here,” said Leslie Maj, one of the most vocal Mount Pleasant residents from the affected area of KR. “They are disheartened and frustrated.”

Maj left before the vote took place, saying the resolution was practically guaranteed to pass.

Proponents of the widening say the expanded road would allow faster travel from Interstate 94 to Racine and Kenosha while improving safety. The affected stretch of road has a crash rate above the statewide safety threshold, and traffic in the area is expected to double from 9,000 to 9,500 cars daily to 19,000 to 20,000 daily by 2042, according to the DOT.

The DOT made some compromises with residents, including making the median 30 feet instead of 36 feet in certain sections, adding a two-way left turn lane in front of some houses and relocating a portion of the multiuse path on the north side of the road to go behind residences to cut down on the right-of-way required from those houses’ yards.

Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave said he was happy to see that the DOT was willing to bend somewhat on its design.

“Local road expansion is one of the hardest things that we do as local government,” he said.

Pete Wicklund /   



M. Jones