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From the SPECIAL REPORT: Forward Kenosha County -- A look at the development and innovation in our community series
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A 107-acre swath of land east of 30th Avenue between 52nd and 60th streets, once the seat of a bustling auto industry and later a brownfield barren for nearly a decade, is now being readied for a transformation — one that promises innovation and connection to its surrounding neighborhoods.

In the next few weeks, The SmithGroup, an integrated design and engineering firm the city hired in January, will begin the process of creating a master plan for the $1 billion Kenosha Innovation Neighborhood project at the former Chrysler Engine Plant site.

The plan is to foster neighborhood opportunities in education, workforce training, entrepreneurial development and job placement, according to Mayor John Antaramian. They will focus on connecting residents to opportunities in high-growth digital fields, as well as science, technology and math occupations.

Master plan goals

The master plan will define land use and zoning and include multi-mode transportation plans as well as proportions for residential housing, as well as commercial buildings for the parcel. The plan is expected to be finalized in June, according to Ed St. Peter, the city’s project manager.

The multifaceted project envisions a $19.5 million innovation center with an intrinsic connection to its surrounding neighborhoods — Lincoln, Columbus, McKinley, Wilson, Roosevelt and Uptown. It is intended to provide opportunities for education, workforce training, entrepreneurial development and job placement in high-growth digital and STEM fields.

Neighborhood discussions will also begin later this month.

Antaramian said the discussions will center on integrating the six neighborhoods into the innovation design concept of “live, work and play.”

State proposes $10M for construction

In late February, Gov. Tony Evers announced that the city, under his proposed capital budget, would receive nearly $10 million in state funding to develop the innovation center. Evers has recommended that the state Legislature approve the city’s request as a part of a proposed $2.38 billion recommended in budget investments in his 2021-23 capital budget plan. The proposal looks to capitalize on low bond rates and 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,” 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 plant site is owned by the city. It closed in 2010 when the automaker declared bankruptcy and was demolished two years later.

According to the capital budget, the city-owned parcel is located in an Opportunity Zone that is supported by an existing tax incremental financing district, with about $6M in federal grants being pursued to initiate Phase I site work and infrastructure development.

Infrastructure funding

The project will also include infrastructure development, site improvement and construction of the facility.

Earlier this year, the City Council reaffirmed its commitment to fund more than $7.4 million of the $12.4 million infrastructure project at the site.

The city is expected to commit up to at least $7,418,661 in funding for roads and utilities based on approval of up to $4,945,774 from the federal Economic Development Administration. The city’s portion of funding would come from bonds issued within the site’s tax incremental financing district.

Site remediation

Also this spring, San Clemente, Calif.-based Regenesis Bioremediation Products Inc. will begin a second-phase effort to further neutralize contaminants left behind after Chrysler closed.

The first phase involved soil excavation to remove areas with the highest contamination on the 107-acre property that lies east of 30th Avenue between 52nd and 60th streets.

The contract includes a combined $2.6 million for remediation and $400,000 in contingency funds to cover unforeseen costs.

Among the contaminants found in the soil and groundwater at the former engine plant site were petroleum compounds, chlorinated solvents, hydraulic fluid and polychlorinated biphenyls. Metal contaminants, including lead, chromium and zinc, were also found, according to state environmental assessments.

Education, business partnerships

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.

Parkside Chancellor Deborah Ford said she was proud to join the more than 25 community and industry partners that are creating the innovation hub with the city.

“We look forward to collaborating with the city on addressing the socio-economic disparities in Kenosha, and to partnering with the mayor in developing an assertive and actionable plan to bridge gaps in training and opportunity,” she said.

Also partnering with the city is Milwaukee-based genera8tor, an accelerator program for business startups. Earlier, the city worked with gener8tor in applying for grant funding for startups in under-served areas through the Economic Development Administration.

“We’re thrilled to partner with Kenosha in the effort to support more minority-led businesses,” said gener8tor’s co-founder Joe Kirgues.

Project to commence next year

While project has yet to go through the city process, with the necessary approvals, construction is expected to begin early next year.

“The innovation and educational pieces are the first things we’re looking to get started on,” Antaramian added.


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