October 12, 2007

Starbucks swallows Jo To Go

Starbucks is taking over the Jo To Go drive-thru coffee stand outside of Regency Mall. Dave Herbeck is applying for a conditional-use permit to open the third stand to sell Starbucks within a mile of each other on Highway 31.

The permit now heads to the full City Council for a final vote. Unless there's a big Alterra contingent on the council, it should pass with ease.

And say goodbye to...

UPDATE: Teen dance club approved

UPDATE 10/17: The City Council gave final approval to the club, which will open on Thursdays and Fridays at first. It could expand to Saturdays, and open as a dance hall for seniors during the day. Story here.


A teen dance club is one step closer to opening on Sixth Street.

"The Bricks," owned by Michael Rosales, received the go ahead from the Plan Commission to open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 9pm to 1:30am. It will be open to 16-year-olds and up, with minors barred from the club after 10:45pm to accommodate the city's 11pm curfew. A wristband system will identify minors, and security is required as part of the club's conditional-use permit.

The club would also be used as an afternoon lounge for seniors 55 and up, and rented out for banquets and small seminars.

The approved proposal includes early-morning hours and Saturdays, which were not included in the original proposal before the Plan Commission. Part of the reason for the discrepancy is Rosales did not bring a business plan the first time he appeared before the commission. He was directed to comeback with a formal plan.

Sticky Rice, a Thai restaurant, and Blueberries, a lunch-and-breakfast restaurant, also operate in the building, which is owned by Jim Spodick.

The Bricks now goes before the full City Council for approval. It's the second dance club for Sixth Street to be reviewed by the city in recent months.

Tinita's, a proposed salsa club on Sixth Street, also wants to open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. That proposal by Tina Elmergreen will come before the Plan Commission in two weeks.

Property Transfer Averages, Oct. 3-10

Here are the average values of property transfers recorded by Racine County between October 3-10, 2007:

Burlington - $223,200.00
Caledonia - $238,928.57
Dover - $290,000.00
Elmwood Park - $161,000.00
Mount Pleasant - $237,900.00
Norway - $367,725.00
Racine - $193,560.00
Raymond - $288,750.00
Rochester - $305,500
Sturtevant - $192,511.00
Union Grove - $161,833.33
Waterford - $187,850.00

Racine County - $225,224.52

Click here for the full list of Racine County property transfers from October 3-10.

Turn lanes to nowhere on Sheridan Road

OK, we appreciate a new highway as much as the next guy, but there's something confusing about the newly rebuilt Sheridan Road between here and Kenosha.

Yes, there's smooth asphalt, a nice grassy median, good curbs and a solid four lanes from Durand Avenue south past the intersection with KR. The Kenosha County portion of the state's $6.6 million project from KR to Carthage College, is proceeding at a good pace.

But what's with all the turn lanes? Just north of KR, for example, there are no less than four sets of turn lanes, from both north and south, that facilitate turns to .... um, nowhere. They're barely 300 feet apart. There's also a useless set of turn lanes just north of Chicory.

That's right: there are five sets of turn lanes in this short stretch of new highway cut into the median, and well-marked, but if you take them the only option is to make a U-turn and go in the opposite direction. There are no intersecting streets, no driveways, no curb cuts; nothing. Just the ability to make one U-turn after another. Some of the cuts are marked with Wrong Way signs to warn motorists they've just turned into oncoming traffic, but not all of them.

Surely someone can explain this? They look to us like accidents waiting to happen.

Rifton Chair

Here is a Rifton Toddler Chair, which was reportedly used to restrain a 3-year-old autistic child at Red Apple Elementary:

Here's a link to the story.

October 11, 2007

Racine apartment building sells for $2 million

A 24-unit apartment building at 2790 Chicory Road sold Sept. 26 for $2 million (click here for Property Transfers, Oct. 3-10). The building was owned by Ronald Leggio, of Milwaukee. It was assessed in 2006 at $1.825 million with a fair-market value of $1,909,595.06. Property taxes on the building last year were $41,635.03.

And here's a photo of the building:

30 second JT...

Quick wrap on today's JT (read this and save 50 cents):

1. Interim Unified leader says district needs to succeed for county to be successful (same thing he told Standard-Press last week)

2. Biz leader announce they're going to talk about unemployment (This sounds promising. Reminds me of the city's efforts to save North Beach a few years back. Everyone said it was impossible, and now we have one of the cleanest beaches on Lake Michigan. Same for the unemployment rate ... everyone says it's impossible. Maybe this will help.)

3. Principal's house vandalized; someone steals booze (and on, and on...)

4. Gas stations sell booze to minors (those compliance checks are really working...)

5. Unified should make a decision on redistricting (does anyone understand this issue?)

Lampark retiring as Racine County public works director

Glen Lampark, the long-time head of Racine County's Public Works Department, is retiring at the end of the year. The county's Public Works committee is considering Lampark's replacement at its meeting today.

The Public Works Department oversees several essential services provided by the county, including management of county buildings, facilities, public infrastructure, natural resources and park and highway systems.

Update, 10/12: The JT reported that David Prott, a 12-year veteran of the county's public works department, is Lampark's likely successor. Story here.

October 10, 2007

Late tax payments increase 5.8 percent in Racine

A Milwaukee J-S article today reported massive increases in delinquent property taxes throughout SE Wisconsin. The reason: the crisis in adjustable rate mortgages coming due. The real surprise in the story is that it's the affluent communities that seem to be getting hit hardest. Shorewood, Fox Point and Bayside all saw a 50 percent increase or more in delinquent taxes, even with median incomes well above the national average.

The article sent me looking for Racine and Racine County's rates. The Racine County treasurer is out of town, so those numbers won't be available until next week. But the city saw a relatively modest 5.8 percent increase in delinquent taxes over the 2005 tax year. That translates to 2,615 late-payers in the city, up from 2,471 last year, and $2.36 million in unpaid taxes.

The J-S interviewed finance experts and concluded:
Much of the blame has been levied on the mortgage crisis, in which a proliferation of nontraditional mortgages and predatory lending practices over the last two years have put many buyers - even those in higher income brackets - in over their heads.
In Racine County, delinquencies increased 18 percent countywide - three times more than the city's delinquency rate. Waukesha County saw a 12 percent increase in late taxes this year, and Ozaukee County recorded a 30 percent increase.

City property taxes are paid in quarters. The last quarter for the 2006 tax year ended on July 31. All late bills are turned over to the Racine County Treasurer for collection.

October 9, 2007

Mayor grilled at Bryant Center

(See video of the Listening Session at the bottom of this post. Photos/Ken Lumpkin)

Mayor Gary Becker got an earful Tuesday night when he faced 250 people at the Dr. John Bryant Community Center over plans to change programming at the center.

Becker wants the city to partner with community organizations, like the YWCA and YMCA, to offer additional programming at the Bryant and Tyler-Domer community centers. The mayor told the crowd he feels the centers are underused during the day.

Despite promises from Becker that the centers aren't closing or being privatized, the largely African-American crowd opposed the plan. Audience members made it clear through speeches, questions and applause that it didn't want the mayor interfering with the community centers, some going so far as to say they needed to fight to protect the Bryant Center. People noted that they marched to create the center, and said it was an important part of its neighborhood.

The opposition came down to trust. Speakers simply did not believe Becker when he said he intended to add more programs that would be more useful to the neighborhoods surrounding the community centers. The mayor also said the directors of the community centers would remain in charge of programming, even if outside groups are brought in.

Becker didn't help himself when he was unable to respond to James Oates' question about what specific programs would be added. The mayor mentioned a few vague ideas, but couldn't tell the crowd what he meant by additional "programming." He simply wants more use out the community centers.

The sizable attendance seemed to surprise Becker, who was ridiculed and cajoled throughout the evening. At one point, the mayor said more people turned out than he expected - a point made evident by the single speaker and microphone hooked up for the listening session. The small sound system made it difficult to hear in the gym.

Where Becker's proposal goes from here is unclear. Parks and Recreation Director Donnie Snow, who attended the session, supports the mayor's plans, as long as the city remains in control of the centers. Everything Becker said Tuesday night indicated that would be the case. The mayor added that the centers would remain free and open to the public, and that funding for children's programs may actually go up in 2008. If true, it would be one of the few area's in city government to see a boost next year.

Armintta Franklin, of Racine, wasn't buying the mayor's words. "I don't feel the mayor has any interest in the African American community," she said. "The African American community doesn't trust the mayor."

City Business: Recording studio proposed on Douglas Ave.

Some recent items of city business...

Recording Studio on Douglas Ave.
Chris and Aleisha Djuricic are seeking permission from the city to open a recording studio at 2415 Douglas Ave. (see map below). The Djuricics need the property to be rezoned and need a conditional use permit to operate the studio.

Claim denied
The city denied the claim of Maria Rodriquez, of Summit Ave., who wanted $250 to fix a lawn mower that was damaged after hitting a raised water service shut-off box. The City Council rejected her request, saying the city did not know a problem existed with the shut-off box.
Claim approved
The city paid HM Investments $7,334.68 to reimburse the costs of repairing a sewer main next to 1918 Slauson Ave. The city confirmed the wye connection to the main was broken.
New police vehicle
The Personnel and Finance Committee agreed to spend up to $50,00 to replace the Police Department's personnel transport vehicle for the Special Investigation Unit. Police Chief Kurt Wahlen said the 1995 Chevy van currently in use needed to be replaced.

Starbucks proposed outside of Regency Mall

A Starbucks with driveup may be going in near Regency Mall at 2805 S. Green Bay Road. Dave Herbeck, of Clubhouse on Wisconsin, is applying for a conditional use permit to operate the coffee house chain. It would replace the Joe To Go, which operated at the same address.

If approved, it would be the third Starbucks, and fourth coffee shop, between Durand Avenue and Washington Avenue. There's a Starbucks near Washington Ave and S. Green Bay Road, the Barnes & Noble at S. Green Bay Road and Durand Avenue sells Starbucks and across the intersection there's a Caribou Coffee with a drive up.

Teen dance club proposed for former Century Market

Two new night clubs on Sixth Street are trying to work their way through the city approval process.

The city Plan Commission will consider a teen dance club called "The Bricks" at its meeting on Wednesday. Michael Rosales wants to open the club at 522 6th St., which is the former Century Market (see map below).

Rosales brought the idea to the commission's meeting on Sept. 27. The dance club would be open to 16 to 20 year olds on Thursdays and Fridays until 10:45 p.m. Security staff and police would be hired to control the crowds.

The commission deferred action on the proposal and directed Rosales to come up with a business plan and further map out how he would use the building. The proposal comes back to the Plan Commission on Wednesday.

On Monday, the City Council's Public Safety Committee deferred action on a liquor license for Tinita's, a proposed salsa club at 500 Sixth St. A lawyer representing the night club was unable to attend the meeting. The committee is expected to take up the item at its next meeting in two weeks.

Pointe Blue theories

I've heard two theories on the status of Pointe Blue - one positive, one not so much.

1. A major lender dropped out because it was overexposed in the current sub prime lending crisis. The developers are looking for a new lender, and shouldn't have a problem because the project is in a prime position on Lake Michigan. In this scenario, Pointe Blue is delayed, but far from dead.

2. Condo sales for Pointe Blue are slow, and the developer can't move forward until more people commit to the project. This is also related to the housing market, but suggests the project itself isn't viable - at least not at this time.

A recent J-S article reported that a quarter of the 440 units at Pointe Blue have buyers, which seems like a good start to me. But I haven't confirmed sales with the developers (who won't return calls or emails) and I'm not sure if that quarter is people who are reserving a condo, or who are actually committed to buying one.

Also, the Washington Post had an interesting article over the summer about a national cool down in the condo market. The article reported that the slow market led lenders to require more units to be pre-sold before loans are approved. During the boom market, developers could get away with pre-selling a quarter of the units; during the downturn they're being asked to sell half, according to the Post.

Pointe Blue may be seeing the same effect. Even if they've pre-sold 100 units, the lenders may want 200 or more.

Racine exploring keg registration

A city committee is exploring requiring buyers to register kegs before taking them home. Supporters of the bill hope it will create a paper trail to people who supply the kegs to underage drinkers.

For example, police bust an underage drinking party. A few underage drinking tickets are issued, and a keg is left behind. If the keg is registered, police can trace the beer back to the person who made the purchase and nail them for supplying alcohol to minors.

Alderman Greg Helding introduced the proposed ordinance at a recent City Council meeting. It was referred to committee, and officials are studying the cost of implementing the permit system. Helding said he was initially opposed to the idea, but later realized it could be a way to hold buyers - not just sellers - accountable for underage drinking. Helding added it could also help liquor stores get their kegs back in decent condition.

Mount Pleasant is considering a similar proposal, which is backed by Focus on Community, a local nonprofit that fights underage drinking.

October 8, 2007

Big plans for Festival Park

I reported last week that three "major festivals" at Festival Park were late in paying $90,000 in bills to the Racine Civic Centre. That issue turned out to be minor - all of the festivals paid up within the last two weeks.

But in investigating the issue, I got to talk with Jim Walczak, head of Venue Works, the private company hired to run Festival and Memorial halls, and Festival Park.

Walczak reported it was a great year at the city's venues, with attendance already surpassing all of 2006 and 4,000 people ahead of last year at this point. In other words, more people are going to events in Downtown Racine - a lot more.

At the same time, Walczak has cut more than $200,000 in operational costs in three years. He's done it by simply billing the festivals for a lot of the setup and takedown costs - a standard fee for festivals that the city hadn't been charging until Venue Works took over.

With costs down and attendance up, Walczak said he even envisions a day when the Civic Centre can break even, or kick money back to the city. To make that happen, he's working towards as many as six new events to Racine in the coming years. Here's what he has in mind:

1. An expanded Christmas holiday season, turning Racine into a destination point with Festival of Trees and other seasonal events.

2. Get promoters back into Racine to put on comedy and dinner theater shows and concerts.

3. Work with the heads of the major festivals to organize a new event and have all of the money go toward renovating Festival Park.

4. Bring a Blues Festival to Racine.

5. Extend Party on the Pavement (which ends at 7pm) into an Oktoberfest celebration at Festival Park that continues into the night.

6. Hold a classic rock concert in Racine for Harley-Davidson's 105th anniversary.

All of the events are possible, Walczak said, and could help the Civic Centre bring in the extra $250,000 it needs to break even.

Case High accident update: Student still in hospital

Mount Pleasant police sent out an update today on the hit-and-run accident that left a 17-year-old Case High School student seriously injured. The girl, Sarah Liberty, is still in the hospital, but there's no word on her condition. Her family has asked for privacy.

The driver of the car is also a 17-year-old girl. Police confirmed she was fleeing from a potential conflict in the Racine Marriott parking lot when she hit Liberty and continued on Oakes Road to Washington Avenue.

The driver later turned herself into Mount Pleasant police. Police are recommending hit-and-run and first-degree recklessly endangering safety charges. The DA is reviewing the case.

Racine's Favorite Rented Movies

Racine's top-rented movies, according to Netflix:

1. You, Me and Dupree
2. Love Actually
3. Gray Matters
4. The Messengers
5. Blades of Glory
6. Bug
7. Man of the Year
8. Disturbia
9. The Nativity Story
10. Shooter
11. Borat
12. Stranger than Fiction
13. Green Street Hooligans
14. Apocalypto
15. Perfume:The Story of a Murderer
16. The Lake House
17. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
18. Barnyard
19. Employee of the Month
20. Breach
21. Reno 911!: Miami
22. The Queen
23. Slow Burn
24. Away From Her
25. Premonition