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Porters project stopped -- Buildings to be removed to make clear development site

Porters project stopped -- Buildings to be removed to make clear development site

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RACINE — The former Porters of Racine owner will not redevelop the existing buildings into retail spaces and apartments — but instead will remove the historic buildings to make a clear development site.

Micah Waters, who co-owned the former high-end furniture store at 301 Sixth St. and owns the property, told The Journal Times on Thursday of his family’s decision not to proceed with an estimated $6 million redevelopment there.

The project was to have converted the 80,000-square-foot historic building into 37 market-rate apartments and enough ground-floor retail space for up to seven storefronts.

Now, Waters said, “The plan is for the property to be developed in another way — maybe with another developer. ... We are going to develop this property one way or another.”

His family company ended the redevelopment project even though his firm, Signature Architecture, had finished 90 percent of the architectural work.

Waters blamed financing difficulties for creating long delays that have now stretched to 3 1/2 years without reaching the construction phase.

He also provided a written statement saying in part, “Originally, over a year was lost trying to secure financing from two local lending institutions.

“Finally, we were introduced to Southport Bank and were given a positive response in 45 days.”

But even with conventional financing in place, Waters wrote, the company spent another year trying to meet the requirements of the other financing components. One was the City’s creation of a tax increment district to facilitate the work.

Waters declined to divulge the ongoing project costs but said they were “certainly” thousands of dollars a month for things such as property taxes, utilities, insurance, payroll and maintenance. Those costs went “well beyond” original projections.

Considering the “enormous” investment that would still be needed, Waters stated, “Simply put, with the dramatically increased owner investment, the risks have potentially exceeded the returns.”

“It was not that the product was not correct,” he commented. “It was just the investment to get there.”

Development site

Instead, the Porters building, which started as nine separate buildings connected in 1939, will be “deconstructed” by summer’s end, Waters said. The buildings date back to the 1800s and contain valuable materials that can be recovered and sold.

The challenge of reusing old buildings, Waters said, always had been making them compliant with today’s building codes.

Creating a clear site — rather than having another developer take over his project — makes it much more attractive to developers, Waters said. “And you don’t have the surprises.”

Mayor John Dickert said his office will work with Waters to find a new developer for the site which is slightly more than one acre. He said it would be right for developments such as:

- A corporate office building. There have been such inquiries in the past but without a sufficiently large site, Dickert said.

- A hotel.

- Ground-floor commercial structure with housing above, as the Porters project was to have been.

Creating housing there is “supported by thorough market studies,” said Downtown Racine Corp. Executive Director Devin Sutherland.

“We’re certainly disappointed the development’s not moving forward,” he said.

But Sutherland said a clear site of that size, in a “prime location” and with just one owner will be “very marketable.”

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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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