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Real estate agent runs on development experience

Dustin Block
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John Dickert has been involved in the highs and lows of Racine development.

“I’ve failed,” Dickert said. “But I’ve also had successes. And when I do fail, I just keep getting up and working hard.”

Dickert is one of two candidates, along with state Rep. Bob Turner, to survive an 11-candidate primary April 7 to replace former Racine Mayor Gary Becker, who resigned in January after being arrested in an Internet sex sting.

Dickert and Turner are Democrats who ran against each other in primaries for the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1990 and 2002. Turner won both elections, but Dickert received the most votes in the mayoral primary held April 7.

Dickert said his experience in real estate and redevelopment gives him an advantage over Turner. For example, Dickert said, city officials in recent years pushed subsidized housing projects that resulted in new construction but didn’t help Racine.

“The biggest problem we had is the former mayor didn’t understand real estate,” Dickert said. “Just because a developer comes in doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.”

But Turner said of the two candidates running in the May 5 special election, he’s the one who has had to decide what’s best for the city. Turner served in the state Assembly and on the Racine Common Council for a combined 32 years. Dickert has no elected experience in Racine.

“I’ve been at the table,” Turner said. “I’ve had to make decisions, and I’ve had to make the votes.”

Dickert’s experience in real estate hasn’t always played out well for the city. He helped bring Kenosha developer Jim Walter to Racine to convert the former Badger Uniform factory into Riverbend Lofts, a $25 million condominium development that now faces foreclosure. Dickert was the real estate agent on the project and sold 15 of the 58 units.

Walter, owner of Harvest Homes Inc., blamed the economy, not Dickert, for Riverbend Lofts’ struggles.

“No one can see into the future,” Walter said. “No one was foreseeing an economic downturn. We didn’t see it. John didn’t see it. The big banks didn’t see it.”

Dickert also was involved with the proposed $200 million Pointe Blue development along Racine’s Root River and the Lake Michigan waterfront. The mixed-use development of high-end condos and commercial space won city approval, but never got built after the developer walked away from the deal. Dickert said its part of the business.

“We put a very complex project together,” he said. “I’d rather do that than not try. Sometimes things fall apart a couple of times before you hit it big.”

Attorney Judley Wyant, who serves on Racine’s Plan Commission, said the Pointe Blue project was never a good fit for Racine. The idea was right, said Wyant, of Wyant Law Offices SC in Racine, but the prices were too high for the city’s market.

“I don’t think it had a very realistic view of what could be absorbed in Racine,” he said.
Wyant said Racine’s next mayor will have a difficult time promoting any development. Before getting arrested, Becker was good at building energy for Racine, Wyant said. But that energy often went too far.

“The appetite was bigger than the capacity,” he said about Becker’s plans.

The new mayor will need to take a more realistic approach to developing what the city needs, Wyant said.

The days of ambitious development plans, at least until the economy makes a strong recovery, are likely over, he said.

“It matters little who is elected,” Wyant said. “They’re not going to execute the kind of stuff (Becker) wanted done.”

Dickert is not so sure. He said his experience selling and redeveloping property gives him insight that’s been lacking in city government.

“Unless you do it,” Dickert said about working on development, “you never know what people want.”

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