December 12. 2012 9:00AM - Last modified: December 12. 2012 9:42AM

Major players will develop Oak Creek's new downtown

By Andrew Weiland, staff writer

The pieces of the massive Drexel Town Square development in Oak Creek are coming together, and several major players in the Milwaukee commercial real estate development industry will participate in the project, according to numerous sources.

"It's all coming together. Residential and retail. The people that we're working with bring a high level of esteem to the project," said one source.

Drexel Town Square is a mixed use development planned for the 85-acre former Delphi plant site southwest of Howell and Drexel avenues in Oak Creek. The Delphi plant closed in 2008 and was demolished in 2010.

"This project is an absolute game-changer for Oak Creek," another source said.

Wispark LLC, the real estate development division of Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Energy Corp., is the master developer for the project, which will include retail space along Howell Avenue, a town center style Main Street area in the middle of the site with street level retail and apartments above, and numerous loft style apartment buildings on the western portion of the site.

"Right now the pieces are all rounded and they aren't snapping together yet," said Wispark president Jerry Franke. "At this point there's nothing we can announce. Nobody's signed on any dotted line. There are no partnership agreements yet."

However, some participants in the project have been announced publicly and several other major players will join the project, according to sources who say the project is coming together quickly. An announcement about several components of the Drexel Town Square project is expected shortly after Jan. 1, according to sources.

The City of Oak Creek is a major partner in the project and will build a new library and City Hall, with a combined 80,000 square feet of space, in the Main Street area of Drexel Town Square. Brookfield-based Chamberlin Group LLC, led by Steve Chamberlin, former president of Milwaukee-based contractor C.G. Schmidt Inc., is the owner's representative for the city's portion of Drexel Town Square. Sheboygan-based Bray Architects was hired by the city to design the new City Hall and library buildings.

Milwaukee-based real estate development firm Zilber Ltd., one of the region's most prominent commercial and residential real estate development and investment firms, is also expected to participate in the Drexel Town Square project in a yet to be defined role, according to sources. Zilber vice president Mike Mervis declined to comment for this report.

Milwaukee-based Barrett Visionary Development, which recently completed The Moderne, a 30-story residential tower in downtown Milwaukee, will develop the loft style apartments planned for the western portion of Drexel Town Square, according to sources. Principal Rick Barrett declined to comment for this report. One source said Barrett will develop 600 apartments in the project, but another source said the number of apartments will be slightly less than that. Another source said the apartments will be designed by Milwaukee-based Rinka Chung Architecture. The firm's owner, Matt Rinka, also declined to comment.

Milwaukee-based WiRED Properties will develop the mixed-use Main Street area portion of the project, which is similar to other developments the firm has done including a pair of projects on Oakland Avenue in Shorewood. WiRED Properties owner Blair Williams declined to comment.

The project is close to obtaining commitments from some key retail tenants, one source said. Dan Rosenfeld, principal of Mid-America Real Estate, is handling the retail brokerage for the project, primarily focused on the big box and mid box retail portion of the project along Howell Avenue. Rosenfeld declined to comment.

"We've had a lot of inquiries (from retailers)," Franke said. "I'd call them soft inquires because we can't show them a site plan yet. We have not formalized a site plan. We're very close on that."

The project could include several restaurants. Developers and Oak Creek officials have pitched the project to several prominent Milwaukee area restaurateurs, sources said.

Oak Creek city officials are hoping that the Drexel Town Square project will create a new downtown for the community, which has never had one. The Main Street area in the project will include a town square area that could serve as a community gathering space with events and activities such as ice skating or a farmers market.

Several sources said that Drexel Town Square is shaping up to be an impressive project. One source said the project will be similar to the Sendik's Towne Center development southwest of Capitol Drive and Brookfield Road in Brookfield.

The project will be assisted by the recent addition of a new freeway interchange at I-94 and Drexel Avenue, which will improve regional access to the Drexel Town Square site.

"When you look at where that location is, and you look at the market around it, it's pretty underserved," one source said.

However, the project will have to compete with other key retail areas on the south side of the metro area including the South 27th Street corridor and Southridge Mall in Greendale, said John Kuhn, senior vice president and a retail real estate broker with Milwaukee-based Siegel-Gallagher.

"For a lot of retailers it might be too close (to the other retail areas)," Kuhn said. "I think having the residential (component) will help (Drexel Town Square). Having the Drexel interchange open is going to be helpful. But it might just be a little bit green yet."

The redevelopment of the former Delphi site was one of ten projects selected last year by a survey of commercial realtors who were asked what development projects in southeastern Wisconsin should be the highest priority for public and private investment in order to maximize the return for the community. The projects selected in that survey were discussed by a panel of some of the region's top real estate professionals at the 2011 BizTimes Milwaukee Commercial Real Estate and Development Conference. Click here to see a video of the discussion at the conference about the Delphi site redevelopment.