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Home / Commercial Construction / The tale of two suburbs: development heavy Brookfield expands, North Shore suburbs nearly at capacity

The tale of two suburbs: development heavy Brookfield expands, North Shore suburbs nearly at capacity

Port China Fox Point

A lot ripe for redevelopment sits in Fox Point, Wis. at the former site of Port China restaurant and what once was a former gas station (Staff Photo: Steve Schuster)

By Ethan Duran and Steve Schuster

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Brookfield, Wis. a city with 40,000 residents and located about 14 miles outside of Downtown Milwaukee, is currently expanding commercial development at a record pace creating a mix of praise and criticism from residents. While some welcome the new development’s relief from property taxes and more dining and shopping options, others raise concerns that Brookfield has become too urban with concerns of increased crime and traffic that will go along with the new developments.

The Corners, a 750,000-square-foot shopping district and apartment complex, was completed in 2017. The city is considering a new Wheel & Sprocket and affordable housing in Bishops Way, seeking to rehabilitate contaminated fields and open access to new demographics and mixes of incomes in the bustling suburb.

In the meantime, the Milwaukee and Chicago suburbs are starting to look more and more similar. Lou Malnati’s and Portillo’s have expanded into Wisconsin. Culver’s, Cousin’s Subs, and Collectivo have expanded into Illinois.

However, back in Wisconsin, not all of Milwaukee’s suburbs are experiencing the same development boon.

Despite the North Shore of Milwaukee’s combined population of around 54,000 people, development is not progressing as it is in Lake Country.

* Despite the North Shore Cinema being located in Mequon, officials from the city say they do not consider themselves to be a part of the North Shore since Mequon is located in Ozaukee County.

Fox Point, Wis., with nearly 7,000 residents and located about 11 miles outside of Downtown Milwaukee, faces stifled development compared to places like Grafton and Brookfield which have a great deal more of open space. Fox Point village officials say they are very limited because there isn’t much land to development anymore. As of March, there is only one available site in the village left to development, the site of a former restaurant and gas station.

When Chicago-based Lou Malnati’s Pizza decided to expand into Wisconsin, they opened a full sit-down restaurant in Brookfield but only offered carry-out and delivery at their Fox Point store due to limited space. The chain also expanded into Greenfield.

The one site available for development in Fox Point is located at 312 W. Bradley Road with easy access to I-43 and Lake Michigan. This is the site of a former Port China restaurant and adjacent gas station.

According to village officials, the restaurant has been vacant for well over a decade and the adjacent gas station has also remained closed for many years too.

Village officials told The Daily Reporter on Tuesday that while several developers have approached Fox Point with construction plans, nothing has come of it because of the limitations of the site.

“Ideally it would be nice to have something developed that required a little less parking, because you want to mitigate the usage of the space,” said Scott Botcher, Fox Point Village Manager.

Echoing Botcher’s statements, Village President Douglas Frazer said, “Developers knock on the door every few months, but a WE Energies substation at the corner of N. Port Washington Road and W. Bradley Road complicates redevelopment of former Port China.”

Moving the substation completely would cost taxpayers more than $20 million, so the village doesn’t want to do it.

“There’s opportunity and there’s space, we just need a concept that will work,” Frazer said. Incoming developments would also have to respect the residential neighborhood on the east side of the village, he added.

The village board also previously held discussions with Milwaukee-based Cobalt Partners to redevelop the Fox Point Village Hall, but the village board decided not to move forward in late 2022.

Just down Lake Drive or Santa Monica Boulevard in Whitefish Bay, the lack of available space is a similar challenge, village officials tell The Daily Reporter.

Paul Boening, Whitefish Bay Village Manager, tells The Daily Reporter Tuesday that land in Whitefish Bay is 90% residential, while the village was fully developed except for green space and parks. He said that developers have not been approaching the village except for a couple of projects like the Women’s Club.

However, “downtown Whitefish Bay” otherwise known as the Silver Spring Corridor may have redevelopment opportunities, he noted.

Brookfield Mayor Steve Ponto said the city’s development success comes with its public school system, its high development standards and being home to name-brand businesses. These things make the city attractive for businesses to move into, he said.

However, according to U.S. News, Whitefish Bay High School ranks number 3 in the state, Brookfield East ranks number 11, and Brookfield Central ranks number 13.

“We get a number of businesses coming to Brookfield. If they’re coming in from out of state, this is the first place often they come … We have a lot more people here during the day than we have at night. We have our own economic base.” Ponto said in an interview with The Daily Reporter.

Meanwhile back in Fox Point, Botcher said since all of the land is already been built out, the village would have to move onto redevelopment instead of new development.

“Anything we have will be redevelopment, if and when it ever happens. We’re 90-something percent residential and people don’t come in knocking on doors asking if they can build an apartment tower on a residential lot. It’s physically not possible and they just wouldn’t do that,” Botcher said.

Bringing in new buildings and businesses would increase the tax base like other communities, but tax rates in the community were low compared to their neighbors, Botcher said.  Fox Point unlike Whitefish Bay does not have sidewalks or street lights, which accounts for part of the lower property taxes in Fox Point. However, property taxes in Ozaukee and Waukesha County are less than Milwaukee County.

Bayside officials shared a success story to break through the North Shore’s stagnation: Cobalt Partners will break ground in May for a $184 million development to the northwest corner of W. Brown Deer Road and N. Port Washington Road, Village President Eido Walny told The Daily Reporter.

The village approved of a tax increment district with the developer and will set the property’s assessment levels at 2022 levels while the village collects 10% of new revenue generated as increment is added, Walny said. As the district matures in the next 15 years, it will add 12-15% value to the community, he added.

“The opportunity to add a significant development like this alters the entire future of our taxing abilities. From almost nothing we’re going to generate $184 million in new development. It’s an all new source of revenue and a complete game-changer for a community like ours,” Walny said.

Fox Point and Glendale are no stranger to redevelopment.

Mandel Group redeveloped the former site of what once was Dunwood School in Fox Point. The site had been turned into a YMCA center before Mandel Group’s redevelopment of the land into a luxury apartment complex, The Chiswick.  As previously reported, Chiswick Land LLC paid $2.7 million to develop the site after Fox Point officials rezoned the property.

In Glendale, the Wisconsin Athletic Club moved into what was once a Sentry Foods grocery store back in 2016. Wheel and Sprocket moved into what was once a Kohl’s grocery store in Fox Point.

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