January 13, 2009

State agency down on Racine? One developer thinks so

When it comes to the proposed $7.2 million development in West Racine, Damon Dorsey has heard it all before.

Last year, the Milwaukee-based developer was building excitement in the community for a sparkling new project that would mix retail and residential in a neighborhood waiting for an economic spark. Dorsey was one approval away from building the $9 million Corinne Owens-Reid Square project on State Street. But that approval never came.

The Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority passed on the project, saying the market in Racine was "too weak" for more affordable housing. Dorsey's project would have included 24 three-bedroom townhouses for low-income families, plus 4,500 square feet of commercial space. Without WHEDA's $5.6 million tax credit, which was backed by city and state officials, Dorsey had to delay the project.

He hopes to bring it back this year, but he's worried WHEDA is down on Racine. While Dorsey supports the $7.2 million West Racine project, which includes 55 low-income apartments, the state agency may maintain its view that there's not enough of a market for low-income housing in the city.

"WHEDA didn't turn down our project last year," Dorsey said, "they turned down the city of Racine."

WHEDA Spokesperson Kate Venne said she didn't have specifics on the two projects, and couldn't immediately comment.

Part of WHEDA's basis for the denial was a vacancy rate of 15 percent among low-income properties in the city, Dorsey said. But his market study showed a need for large, nice housing units for low-income families. WHEDA, which gives out tax credits to make low-income and senior housing projects possible, disagreed.

"WHEDA hit me upside with a baseball bat," Dorsey said. "They didn't tell us (the market was weak) until after the fact."

Dorsey added he wouldn't have submitted the project if a market study showed there wasn't a need for low-income housing. Now, he wonders if a 55-unit building stands a better chance in the market than his 24 units.

"Twenty-four units is nothing in the market," Dorsey said. "The market can easily absorb that amount."

He added that he wished the North Carolina-based developer well. But unless city officials get ahold of WHEDA and make a compelling case, the West Racine project won't get funded, either.

"The North Carolina developers said they're optimistic their project will go through," Dorsey said. "No one was more optimistic than us last year. We were hyper-optimistic."

Hopefully, the state comes through with funding for both projects this year.


  1. WHEDA mandates low income housing. The last thing Racine needs is more low income housing.
    I do not think that West Racine wants to be the new place for drugs and thugs.

  2. The $9 million project includes 24 condos and 4500 square feet of retail. Not counting the retail space, we are talking $375,000 per unit. Is that considered low income housing nowadays?

  3. WHEDA loans only to groups who include low income units think the Wagon Lofts.
    Would you buy a unit next to in chap 8 housing?