Kenosha’s proposed $19.5 million “innovation center” could receive nearly $10 million from the state to fund its construction and fuel an intrinsic piece of the city’s ambitious goal to develop the 107-acre Chrysler site, which has sat dormant for more than a decade now.
On Monday, Gov. Tony Evers announced his recommendation that the state Legislature approve the city’s request as a part of a proposed $2.38 billion in recommended budget investments in his 2021-23 capital budget plan. According to a news release, the multi-billion-dollar offering represents one of the strongest investments to-date for Wisconsin’s facility infrastructure and continues to leverage historic low bond rates. The proposed capital budget would support major projects across the state in 31 counties.
“I’m very happy with the governor’s support and the legislators’ support for this project. It’s something that I believe, long term, will be a huge benefit to Kenosha and the State of Wisconsin,” Mayor John Antaramian said upon learning of the announcement. “This is the first of a number of grants we expect to be coming our way. We believe there is more to come that people will see.”
The city’s request for $9.75 million in capital funding from the state represents half the cost of the proposed center, which the city would then match. The former Chrysler Engine Plant site is located east of 30th Avenue between 52nd and 60th streets. It closed in 2010 when the automaker declared bankruptcy. The site was demolished in 2012.
According to the capital budget, the the city-owned parcel is located in an Opportunity Zone that is supported by an existing tax incremental district, with about $6M in federal grants being pursued to initiate Phase I site work and infrastructure development. The project will include infrastructure development, site improvement and construction of the facility.
In early January, the city hired the SmithGroup, an integrated design and engineering firm, which it commissioned and has begun the process for creating a master plan for the proposed $1 billion Innovation Neighborhood project.
The plan would foster neighborhood opportunities in education, workforce training, entrepreneurial development and job placement. The plan will focus on connecting residents to opportunities in high-growth digital fields, as well as, science, technology and math occupations.
“They’ll be contacting and talking with people in the community and will be starting the process for the master plan for the site,” Antaramian said.
The proposed neighborhood is intended to be the innovation hub for the region by providing programming space for non-profits and higher education along with incubator workspace supported by industry partners. While project has yet to go through the city process, with the necessary approvals construction would expected to begin in early next year.
“The innovation and educational piece are the first things we’re looking to get started on,” Antaramian added.
In December, the University of Wisconsin-Parkside signed on as a partner committing to the city’s revitalization efforts and was in the early stages of discussions to provide equitable access to education and training at the proposed innovation site.
Local legislators praised the governor’s recommendation for funding and support of the innovation center.
“First, I want to thank the Governor for this proposal and his dedication to business and development in Kenosha. The entire Kenosha Innovation Neighborhood project is really exciting and would be a great resource for Kenosha residents, entrepreneurs and innovators,” said Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Somers.
Echoing his comments were state representatives Tod Ohnstad and Tip McGuire.
“The auto industry was once the heart of Kenosha, so bringing the Innovation Center to the former Chrysler engine plant site is huge both practically and symbolically. The Governor’s announcement is a big step toward making it a reality,” said Ohnstad, D-Kenosha.
McGuire, D-Kenosha, added: “While the Kenosha area has seen a lot of development and growth in the last few years, this Innovation Center and the Kenosha Innovation Neighborhood concept could make Kenosha the place to be for business, not just in Wisconsin but in the entire Midwest.”
Other proposals across the state
Evers’ recommendation for funding for the Kenosha project was one of many in the capital budget.
Of the nearly $2.4 billion proposed for projects across 31 counties, $1 billion will be for the UW System. That mirrors his capital budget proposal from two years ago, when roughly $1 billion of the $2.5 billion was for projects on UW campuses. The Legislature ultimately approved $1.9 billion in building projects.
Evers said the budget proposal this year prioritizes funding for corrections and health services facilities, state parks and forests, upgrades at veterans homes and improvements at veterans cemeteries.
$163 million state office building and parking garage in Milwaukee, replacing the existing office building there at a new location and consolidating offices.
$150 million to demolish an engineering facility at UW-Madison and build the first phase of a two-part replacement facility to house the College of Engineering.
$116 million for UW-River Falls to demolish a vacated academic building and replace it with a new science and technology facility to be home for the biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology departments.
$96 million for UW-Green Bay to demolish the Cofrin Library and build a replacement multi-use academic, technology center.
$46 million juvenile prison in Milwaukee County to house 32 young offenders as part of a plan to close the Lincoln Hills-Copper Lake juvenile prisons north of Wausau.
$40 million to help pay for plans to relocate the Milwaukee Public Museum and combine it with the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum near the Fiserv Forum in downtown Milwaukee. The total project, which includes both public and private funds, is expected to be complete in 2026 and cost $240 million. The Milwaukee Public Museum, a natural history museum, has operated at its current location in downtown Milwaukee since 1963.
$36 million for upgrades at a variety of state parks, including replacing the visitors station public entrance at Potawatomi State Park and restoring the historic boat house at Rock Island State Park in Door County.
$4 million to begin preliminary design work for redevelopment of a block near the Capitol in Madison for a new state office building and home for the Wisconsin Historical Society Museum
The state Building Commission is slated to vote on Evers’ proposals next month, which would then send the plan to the Legislature’s budget committee. The Republican-controlled Legislature will ultimately decide what to fund in the budget it passes and sends back to Evers later this year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.