WISPARK’s downtown dreams becoming a reality in Oak Creek

drexel 1by Dan Rafter

Developer WISPARK’s plan for the Drexel Town Square development in Oak Creek, Wis., is far from a small one: Jerry Franke, president of the Milwaukee-based developer, says that WISPARK from day one had dreams of creating a real downtown center for the city of Oak Creek.

That’s no easy task. Add the deep chill of two polar vertexes and an autumn concrete shortage, and it’s litle surprise that WISPARK’s timeline for this large development has changed. WISPARK originally planned to have the project’s infrastructure complete by the end of 2014. Now, the goal is to have this portion of the project wrapped by June of 2015.

But here’s the good news: There is still plenty of interest from potential tenants in Drexel Town Square.

“The timeline had slowed down,” Franke said. “But we have not lost any of our prospective buyers or tenants. That shows how strongly people believe in this project.”

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Franke is predicting a big year for vertical development at Drexel Town Square in 2015. So far, Franke is right. Construction has already started on a Meijer store, city hall building and Panda Express restaurant. The new city hall and library should open in late summer.

Earlier this year, Froedtert Health announced that it will open a health care center in the project, a big addition for Drexel Town Square.

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“Our plans are still in the early stages, but I can say with complete confidence that we’re committed to providing health care services that respond to the needs and preferences of this community,” said Cathy Jacobson, president and chief executive officer of Froedtert Health, in a press release.

Construction has also started on a Water Street Brewery restaurant here, another destination point that should attract visitors and residents alike when it opens. And in another potential big get for the project, Chick-fil-A has expressed interest in opening a location in the development.

Why the demand for a project that is still in the construction phase? Franke says that it all comes down to the most basic of real estate truisms: Location trumps all.

“It really does come down to the old adage of location, location, location,” Franke said. “This is what we call the 100-percent corner of Oak Creek. We had the opportunity to develop a 60-acre site that opened up here, that was previously industrial. It gave us the opportunity to create a downtown. This is not meant to be a shopping center. It’s a mixture of traditional suburban development and neo-urban development.”

To prove his point, Franke points to the residential component of this development: Two apartment buildings will come out of the ground here in 2015. One of the apartments will be a more traditional suburban-type development. The second will have a more urban feel, with retail on the first floor and two or three floors of residential above that.

A model

“We think this development will serve as a model for other suburban collar communities,” Franke said. “A lot of them wish they had downtowns like this. They developed in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s when downtowns were kind of skipped.”

The Drexel Town Square development covers a total of 85 acres, 60 of which are being developed. The project, situated at South Howell and West Drexel avenues, is a collaboration between WISPARK and the city of Oak Creek. The goal is for the development to become the city’s downtown, which is why the city hall and library are so important.

After the delays, the timeline for Drexel Town Square is speeding up, Franke said. Construction will begin on the urban apartment project in the second quarter. Also in that quarter, construction will begin on a Sheraton hotel. Construction on Froedtert’s medical center will begin in the third quarter, as will construction on the stand-alone, suburban-type apartment building.

“We will be done with all of the internal infrastructure construction in June,” Franke said. “Then we’ll start seeing even more of the vertical construction activity. That is a pretty exciting stage, when you actually start seeing the buildings go up. It’s good to see.”

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