In the last several years, our southern neighbors in the city of Kenosha have seen a healthy amount of commercial and industrial real estate development.
But of course times haven't always been so good. After Chrysler went bankrupt, Kenosha was left with a closed engine plant on a 100-plus acre contaminated site, full of old buildings, in the central city.
It might have seemed like a raw deal, but Kenosha mayor Keith Bosman says rather, the city saw an opportunity.
"I think we see value in this site," he says. "To leave the blight, blighted buildings, crumbling buildings to me would be unconscionable."
So the city negotiated a compromise with the involved parties. The Business Journal of Milwaukee reports that the city will soon own the land and, with a combination of federal and local public dollars, would clean the contaminated area. A trust in charge of selling off the Chrysler plant completed the process of tearing down buildings and clearing the land earlier this year.
Real estate reporter Sean Ryan says the land otherwise might have sat contaminated and empty while the case wound through the courts, emphasizing the good deal the city made.
Kenosha will begin the site's re-purposing process next year, and will bring in the Urban Land Institute from Washington, D.C., to help with the planning. Bosman says he hopes it will become a business or industrial park, but says the city will have to make itself a competitive option.
"The city would need to incentivize companies to locate far off the I-94 corridor," Bosman says. "It's 5 miles from I-94. Most of the companies that are looking at Kenosha want to be out near I-94. There's probably potential where the city is going to need to help companies locate there. We're prepared to do that."
Such incentives are part of an aggressive development strategy Kenosha is taking with other projects as well.
For example, reporter Sean Ryan says the city is considering providing $17 million in public money toward a distribution center on a 150-acre site in Kenosha off the highway.
The money would come from a tax increment financing district (TIF) established by the city for the site, and would provide support for the distribution center, as well as roads and utilities. Once the incentive is paid off, the site will be added to the city's tax rolls.
Ryan says such incentives are becoming the cost of doing business for municipalities.
"It’s just becoming kind of a reality where communities that are vying for large projects like this that have multiple different locations where they can go – they all start bidding against each other and they all use public money to do it," Ryan says. "It’s the reality of getting those jobs to go your community versus another one."
Bosman agrees that the competition can be fierce, which is why Kenosha is aggressive in offering public support.
"It could be as many as three dozen sites that companies may be looking for in the area, so there's competition involved," Bosman says. "Cities need to step up from time to time...if the number of jobs is right, if the quality of the jobs is right, if the tax base can be developed...all of these things are taken into account when we're trying to do development.
"We try to be realistic in terms of not just giving away the store."
Bosman says he thinks Kenosha is doing a "good job" so far in development, and credits help from the Kenosha Area Business Alliance in developing incentive packages for companies considering locating to the area.
Plus, Kenosha, he says, has another leg up: its prime location.