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Reports of trespassing have been common at the former Western Publishing building 5945 Erie St. Signs hung in 2015 warn intruders that they will be cited and arrested. Similar reports have been made at the former Olympia Brown/REAL school site, across the driveway from the former Western Publishing site.

CALEDONIA — The Village Board has agreed to retain a Milwaukee law firm as a special legal counsel regarding “blight clearance and development solutions” for abandoned properties on Erie Street.

The properties include the former Olympia Brown/REAL schools, 5915 Erie St.; the former Western Publishing building, 5945 Erie St.; and one other property at 5919 Erie St.

The village has retained von Briesen and Roper, which will be paid at an hourly rate for its work. Milwaukee-based von Briesen and Roper is one of the largest and oldest firms in the state, having been founded in 1904 and reportedly employs more than 180 lawyers.

Reports of trespassing and other criminal activity have been common at the abandoned properties for several years.

Racine Unified School District owns both the former school and 5919 Erie, according to Racine County records. The Western Publishing building is owned by 5945 ERIE ST LLC, a company whose mailing address is listed as a residence in Franklin.

Village Administrator Tom Christensen said the reason the law firm was retained is to make sure Caledonia can “get appropriate development up there.”

At least one developer has tried to develop the properties in the past few years, but the deal fell through.

Timeline

2011:

  • 5945 ERIE ST LLC acquires the Western Publishing building, which Western Publishing vacated in the mid-’90s, according to The Journal Times archives.

The building had previously been owned by Legacy D.C. Inc., a company that was partially owned by a Franksville man, Daniel Hintz.

October 2012:

  • The Caledonia Village Board dissolves a tax-increment financing district set up around the Western Publishing building.
  • A committee is assigned by the village to keep an eye on the Western Publishing building after community members raised concerns.

Caledonia Police also issued a warning to trespassers who faced a $218.50 fine for entering the abandoned structure. Broken glass, asbestos and black mold had reportedly created a health hazard.

“We need to keep an eye on it, maybe get involved at some point,” former Village President Bob Bradley said at the time. “It needs to be cleaned up. It needs to be revitalized … if it’s not a good building, it needs to be torn down.”

  • Hintz, the former owner of the Western Publishing Building with Legacy D.C. Inc., files suit against 5945 ERIE ST LLC. Hintz wins the lawsuit after a March 2016 trial, and court records show that he was fully paid $1,402.09 in June 2017.
  • Olympia Brown School moves to a new building on 5½ Mile Road. The REAL School, which had previously shared 5915 Erie with Olympia Brown, moves to Sturtevant after the 2016-17 school year.
  • Residents receive an open-records request that shows police had been called to the Western Publishing building 19 times in the preceding 12 months, confirming suspicions of repeated trespassing and illegal activity in the area.

“The people in that area are certainly justifiably upset,” Christensen said at the time. “I don’t want to point the finger at people in the area … they’re not the problem — the building is the problem.”

  • The Village Board asks its attorney to issue a raze order for the Western Publishing building, but that order is put on hold within two weeks.

“The neighbors have been very patient over the past 15 years with a blighted property in their neighborhood,” Christensen said at the time. “It’s in the best interest of the village to pursue a resolution to this.”

  • The Racine Unified School Board votes to sell the former school to Inspired Real Estate Development for $900,000 to be developed into market-rate condominiums and apartments. Inspired’s co-owner told The Journal Times that it was also interested in redeveloping the Western Publishing building.

Inspired also is the developer currently looking to redevelop multiple properties on Sixth Street in the City of Racine. The city development is expected to cost $55 million and create 335 new market-rate housing units.

  • RUSD has been using the former school for storage.
  • Joshua J. Merath, 27, of Milwaukee was charged for burglary of a building after allegedly trying to break into the former school, in addition to charges of theft and illegal possession of a prescription.

Monday:

  • Caledonia retains the von Briesen and Roper law firm regarding the properties on Erie.

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Reporter

Adam Rogan (SCHS '14, Drake U. '17) has been covering homelessness, arts & culture and just about everything else for the JT since March 2018. He enjoys mid-afternoon naps, loud music played quietly and social media followers @Could_Be_Rogan

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