Meeting on plan for Wells site draws a crowd

BY BILL GUIDA
bguida@kenoshanews.com
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Some 50 downtown and nearby residents packed the first of two scheduled meetings for a mixed income residential project being proposed by Bear Development at the former Frank L. Wells Co. site.

Thursday’s community meeting at the Municipal Building was hosted by Alderwoman Chris Schwartz, whose 2nd District includes the downtown area.

Although only in its preliminary stages, with no plans or applications yet submitted to the city, there were questions aplenty fielded by Bear’s S.R. Mills, chief among them: whether the two-phase project is about building low-income, government-subsidized rental apartments.

Mills said 40 of the 60 units in the phase one five-story building — 35 percent of the one-, two- and three-bedroom units — will rent at discounted “workforce” rates to meet Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority requirements to make the rent affordable at the average starting salaries of, for example, firefighters, teachers, nursing assistants and bank tellers.

The rest will be rented at market rate, which Mills estimated at $1,200 for a two-bedroom apartment. By comparison, the workforce two-bedroom would be discounted to $875 a month. The discounts are meant to qualify Bear for WHEDA tax credits that would go into the cost of the project, estimated at $13 million, including environmental cleanup of the former manufacturing site at 5821 Fifth Ave..

Mills said no city tax dollars will go into the development, which will number 150 units, if the second phase also moves to completion. He said Bear will cover the costs through bank loans, the aforementioned tax credits and a developer-funded Tax Incremental Financing loan, which the company would fund completely.

“We’ve designed this for high quality rental,” Mills said.

He and Schwartz noted the development would fit into the Lakota Downtown Plan, which the city funded two years ago in seeking ways to increase downtown population density, which is seen as key to attracting brand name commercial stores and other businesses to the lakefront neighborhood.

The meeting drew naysayers, skeptics and supporters alike. A second community meeting is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Municipal Building, 625 52nd St.

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