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“This is what we want, now you build it.”

That’s apparently the tack the city of Racine wants to take as it tries to revive the prospects for development of the former Machinery Row site nestled along the Root River in Downtown Racine.

The Racine Development Authority this month unanimously recommended that city staff be directed to issue a request for qualifications to create a master redevelopment plan for the 27-acre Water Street area — a plan that would include architecture, landscaping, market analysis and engineering.

The plan would include 3-D architectural renderings, utility and stormwater plans, seawall and geotechnical plans – whatever they are – right down to guidelines for building heights, façade standards, building materials and architectural design.

And the plan would cost a mere $150,000, which would be taken from the city’s perpetual piggy-bank, the Intergovernmental Fund which is supplied by neighboring communities — until it runs out in 2032. That’s become a go-to funding source for all sorts of little projects — including the recently proposed $390,000 in IGF funding to help build a grocery co-op near the zoo.

City Development Director Amy Connolly boosted the Water Street Development Plan to the RDA, saying, “Developers love it when they come into a situation where the community knows what it wants. And they don’t have to come in and argue with the community about what they want and their vision … We may argue over some small details, but the overall vision is something that they would love for us to provide to them.”

We’re not so sure that’s the case. It seems to us that potential developers are, in fact, in the business of assessing sites, determining what is likely to make a financial go of it and then proposing what they think would work. Yes, the city would have to give its final approval on a developer’s plan, but that’s far different from the city laying out a plan and trying to find a suitor with the financial means to make it a reality.

Sure, the city can say up front that it wants a riverwalk, but we suspect “guidelines” on façades, construction materials, building heights, landscaping and other things might well prompt a potential builder to take a pass if that’s not the vision they have for a successful development.

In our view, a developer with a vision would be more enamored with the 27-acre area if they know it’s a clean site — with the old buildings razed and any contamination areas dealt with. The city is moving ahead along those lines and the RDA also voted this month to hire a firm, for $136,000, to write specifications and do construction management for demolition and remediation of the site. That work has been estimated to cost $6.47 million.

That’s money well spent if it leads to a successful redevelopment.

But Racine could pocket the $150,000 master plan costs and let a developer do the design work to showcase its vision for the area without drowning in the details and being hampered by a city-developed plan.


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