The City Council will get another chance to approve a new dollar store on Washington Avenue.
The city’s Redevelopment Authority voted unanimously Wednesday night to re-recommend support for a roughly 14,000-square-foot development anchored by Family Dollar at 1130 Washington Ave. (See our previous story for more details on the development.)
The council had sent the proposal back to the RDA after Alderman Jeff Coe raised questions about the development. The site, the former home of Schaefer Pontiac, sits in Coe’s district.
During its regularly scheduled Wednesday meeting, the RDA initially seemed to favor starting the development process over. Coe, Alderman Michael Shields and the owner of Puma Cycles, located across the street from the development site, all were against the proposed dollar store.
But a strong argument from Kristin Niemiec, of the Racine County Economic Development Council, and Linea Anthony, of the Uptown Business Improvement District, seemed to reinvigorate support for the dollar store development proposed by Abdo Markethouse of Minneapolis.
Niemiec argued the city had issued two requests for proposals for 1130 Washington Ave. already. Sending out a third RFP could turn away Abdo and leave the city with fewer options for the site, she said. “My hunch is we’re going to lose them,” Niemiec said.
She also noted this would be the first new construction in the Uptown area in several years, and the developer is using their own money to pay for the new construction. The development is expected to be assessed at over $1 million.
“Macy’s isn’t coming,” she said. “I hate to break it to the Uptown folk, but it’s not coming.”
“How many times are we going to be able to do this?” she asked. “… this ideal development that doesn’t take a subsidy and everyone wants doesn’t exist. There’s always going to be someone who’s unhappy.”
Niemiec, whose frustration showed through, poked fun at herself. She called herself the “crazy RCEDC woman trying to railroad everything” through the council.
Railroading or not, the RDA listened. The breakthrough compromise came when the RDA agreed to talk to Abdo Markethouse about including groceries or a deli inside the Family Dollar store to serve as a resource for the surrounding neighborhood.
Coe said he would support the development if it included the grocery component. Shields raised questions about how, exactly, the city would convince or require the developer to add those elements.
City Development Director Brian O’Connell said the project had a lengthy review process that would give city officials opportunities to influence the design. But he also noted the Common Council’s vote in two weeks, technically to give Abdo Markethouse a 90-day option on buying the land at 1130 Washington Ave. for $70,000, would lock in the site’s general use. For example, a city committee couldn’t force the developer to abandon the dollar store.
Underlying approval of the development was the impact new construction could have on the entire Uptown area.
Anthony noted the $1 million+ development would lie within the Uptown BID and generate money for the group, which works to support Uptown businesses. The development also lies within the Uptown tax incremental finance district that’s being used to improve buildings in Uptown.
“Trader Joe’s is not coming here,” Anthony said. “We can’t even get a Starbuck’s in Downtown Racine. This is a lot of tax revenue, a lot of BID money that can be used for something down the road.”
Alderman Jim Spangenberg, who sits on the RDA, also noted the city has to be careful about how it works with developers. It put out RFPs and got responses. If it’s constantly turning people away, it could give the city a reputation as being hard to work with.
In the case of 1130 Washington Ave., getting too picky could result in an empty lot for the “next 20 years,” Spangenberg said.
Coe hinted at a possible competing use for the site. He said the developer interested in building a gas station had talked about adding space for a small grocery store and working with neighboring businesses to help them expand.
The RDA approved a gas station for the site the first time around, but had to seek new proposals after the first deal fell through. Shields asked what changed from the first time when the RDA voted for a gas station and the second time it voted for the dollar store.
John Crimmings, chairman of the RDA, said input from Uptown business owners convinced the committee to approve a retail development over a gas station.
Puma, who seemed to oppose the dollar store, said he was hoping the city would work toward a development that would tie together Uptown with Downtown. He didn’t think the dollar store would serve that role.
“We have a golden opportunity,” Puma said. “… I’d hate to see it lost on a rush to judgment.”