October 7, 2009

No Option: City puts off decision on West Racine grocery store, gas station

The Redevelopment Authority met Wednesday in the City Council chambers.
About 75 people attended the meeting.

A proposed grocery store, gas station, restaurant and bank in West Racine remains in limbo after the Redevelopment Authority's meeting on Wednesday.

Project developer Tom Tousis had hoped to secure a 12-month option to buy the 1.5-acre site, located at West Boulevard and Washington Avenue, from the RDA, which owns the land. But the RDA only agreed Wednesday to direct city staff to negotiate with Tousis on an option to buy the land. Tousis will need to return to the RDA to get the option.

The option is a critical step because Tousis needs RDA support for his project to advance to the next round of city approvals. The City Council's Plan Commission and other committees cannot consider the $5 million proposal if Tousis does not have the right to purchase the property.

Wednesday's outcome was somewhat unexpected because Tousis and RDA officials both seemed surprised/confused by the project's status. Here's an explanation of what happened based on interviews and attending the meeting:

* Tousis submitted his project to the city on Sept. 11 and it was referred to the RDA for consideration.

* The RDA put the project on its October agenda as a public hearing with an initial recommendation to "receive and file" the proposal. Tousis was hoping to secure rights to buy the land so the project could advance to other city committees.

* On Tuesday (the day before the RDA meeting), the city notified Tousis that he needed to work with the RDA's real estate agent to establish terms of the land option, including price and length. This was news to Tousis, who didn't know the RDA wanted him to negotiate the option.

* On Wednesday, the RDA's meeting agenda changed the staff recommendation on Tousis' project from "receive and file" to "defer" to give Tousis time to negotiate the option.

* The RDA voted unanimously Wednesday to direct staff to negotiate the option with Tousis.

Tom Tousis speaks during Wednesday's RDA meeting.

Following Wednesday's meeting, Zak Williams, a spokesman for Tousis, said the RDA's action was another "roadblock" to Tousis' efforts to build in West Racine. He noted the city had Tousis' project nearly a month before the RDA meeting but never said Tousis needed to negotiate an option before Wednesday's meeting.

Williams said city officials, including Mayor John Dickert and City Development Director Brian O'Connell, were stalling on Tousis' project.

"The city staff does not want this proposal to move forward," Williams said, adding: "The mayor has been very aware of what Brian O'Connell has been doing with this project, and he's done nothing about it."

Dickert, who sat in on the RDA meeting, said afterward that the RDA's decision was a common sense vote. Tousis only asked the RDA to review his project, and that's what the RDA did, Dickert said. If Tousis wanted an option on the land, Dickert said, he should have brought an option for the RDA to consider.

In other words, since there was no option, the RDA had nothing to vote on.

RDA Chairman John Crimmings said as much during the meeting. "The problem I have is we don't have an option to consider," he said. "It's very difficult to grant an option when we don't have an option."

The outcome suggested one of three things occurred:

1. The city sprung the option requirement on Tousis at the last minute, possibly to delay a vote.
2. Tousis made a mistake and failed to work on the option prior to Wednesday's meeting.
3. Everything went as it should, and this is just part of the approval process.

One person who seemingly can't be blamed for the delay is Alderman Jim Spangenberg, who is opposed to Tousis' plans to build a gas station but said he was "not against" giving Tousis the option.

Spangenberg did say he opposed a lengthy option (18 months) on the property, in part because a handful of other developers received options and then did nothing with the site. He also said he wouldn't vote for an option without seeing information about the deal and more about Tousis' background and project.

One positive for Tousis out of Wednesday's meeting was the RDA held its public hearing on his project, which is a step forward in the approval process. A majority of the people who spoke Wednesday night backed Tousis' 25,000-square-foot project.

Alderman Greg Helding and Elaine Sutton-Ekes, both city Plan Commission members, both spoke in favor of granting Tousis the option. Both said they looked forward to reviewing the project in detail at their meetings.

A sketch of the gas station canopy designed to look like a train depot Tom Tousis
intends to build in West Racine.

Tousis himself spoke on the project Wednesday. He revealed a new canopy for the gas station that would be designed to resemble an old train station and would use motion sensors to light up at night only when customers were present. Tousis also said the project would reclaim stormwater on the project and use it for landscaping, would setup a neighborhood recycling center and may even compost leftover food to create a source for renewable energy.

Dick Hinsman, who owns a property adjacent to the vacant lot in the 3100 block of Washington Avenue, continued his strong opposition to the project. Hinsman spoke during the public comment period and said a gas station would bring too much traffic to the corner.

Robin Wilson, the owner of Wilson's Coffee and Tea in West Racine, said he supported the grocery store and restaurant, but said a gas station was "completely unacceptable."

A representative from the West Racine Business and Professional Association, said the organization met this week and supported Tousis' grocery store, restaurant and bank, but said the gas station did not fit with plans for West Racine. (Tousis attempted to attend the association's meeting Tuesday morning, but was asked to leave.)

Real estate agent Karen Sorenson speaks at Wednesday's RDA meeting.

The next step for the controversial project is unknown. Karen Sorenson, Tousis' Realtor on the project, said she would write-up an option on the land by Friday. She asked the RDA if they would consider a special meeting this month so Tousis wouldn't have to wait until November to appear again before the RDA. Crimmings was non-committal on the idea.

As a side note to the meeting, state Rep. Cory Mason didn't attend the meeting but did listen in through conference call. There was some disagreement over whether Mason could vote at the meeting. Assistant City Attorney Nicole Loop said City Attorney Rob Weber had cleared Mason to vote by phone if he participated in the meeting, which she said is consistent with state law. But during the actual meeting Crimmings said Mason wouldn't be allowed to vote.

Mason himself said Tuesday he was told he could vote by phone.

The issue proved irrelevant because no votes were close enough for Mason to make a difference, but could be worth watching at future meetings.


  1. Back Room Billy10/08/2009 12:14 AM

    Funny how Mason wasn't allowed to vote. Probably because he would side with Labor. Create hurdles and block favorable votes, sounds like the Good Ole Boys Club in action. It sure seems like they slammed the Christian Book company through pretty darn quick. I guess that the Lord should not have to wait in line anyway.

  2. That is funny about Mason, why would he have any voting power on a local clowncil meeting ? Isn't he a BIGTIME Madison legislator ?
    Probably why he appeared by phone ?

    Keith and Tom probably already filled their lawsuit.
    I cant wait to see all the face looks after the crap hits the fan.

  3. Small town politics as usual. Yawn.

  4. How do some of you people even have the intellectual wherewithal to tie you own shoes in the morning?

    Even is Mason had sided with Tousis, the committee didn't vote. If it had, it probably would have been a 3-3 vote and the chair would have voted against. That is assuming any of the members were able to put together a motion.

    Mason has voting power because he is on the damn committee. He was appointed to it by Gary Becker shortly before he ran for Assembly so it would look like he had some local involvement. He has had a HORRIBLE attendance record. He had yet another conflict and that is why he appeared via telephone, which is allowed in WI.

    Why do people always talk out of their asses about lawsuits? How is Keith even involved? How would he even have standing to bring a lawsuit? In order to sue, you have to be harmed in some way. No one can force anyone to sell them anything - except the government via eminent domain. The city has a property listed for sale and Tousis, with the help of his "Agent" is negotiated to purchase it. The failure of negotiations to produce an agreement is not grounds for a lawsuit.

  5. Fritz The Cat10/08/2009 7:53 AM

    Mason does not bother to come to most of the meetings, just look at the records. If he can not be bothered to come he should not be on the committee.
    Thinking here this is a win for those who see this as an end to The Farmer's Market.
    All ready I have called to gather support for a picket at the site with press coverage from Chicago.
    I can just see the signs "Food not gas"
    " Billy save some gas for your sister's Corn Flakes"

  6. If I were Tom, I'd tell the RDA to shove it and walk away. Let them have the weed/gravel pit with no tax revenue. Tom take your plan elsewhere - these people are idiots.

  7. The RDA says they own it but pay in no tax revenue. I pay higher taxes each year on my house that's loosing value. Jobs are scarce yet I watched this committee shoot down 12 million dollars worth of improvements to Racine over "Maybe" the KRM could come through in 3-6 years and they can sell the property for more money. Then over a procedural thing. What these people don't seem to be able to comprehend is a 18% and rising unemployment rate in Racine IS NOT A GOOD SELLING POINT to new developers. Where does this mayor find these people? Didn't Dickhert run on a JOBS platform? Or was that just more Hope and Change?

  8. Jim's People10/08/2009 8:34 AM

    Spangenberg will not allow this thing to happen. He promised us that he would do anything he could to block this "Killer" of the farmers market. I know that Jim would not lie to us about stopping this thing, he has said it many times. Keep up the fight Jim, you and your friend did a wonderful job last night. We want you to know that we are in your corner. God bless you Jim.

  9. Jim's people.....

    Your just as blind and stupid as the soon to be former alderman.

  10. Look Elsewhere10/08/2009 9:09 AM


    Why dont you look at bringing your concept to Caledonia or Sturtevant. Im sure both communities would like to have a job creating, responsible corporate citizen to do business with. Tell Racine to shove it.

  11. Where any of you bloggers at the meeting? I was and thought Tousis and his team were embarrassing. His agent Karen Sorenson admitted that she hadn't submitted an offer to the RDA yet and then promised to submit one by Friday, then Monday and then Friday again. Tousis presentation was over 25 mintues of rambling and could have been 5-7. Zac Williams impersonation of Vanna White was silly. Everyone is worked up over this thing and Tousis and Sorenson HAVEN'T EVEN SUBMITTED AN OFFER YET. She is suppose to be a real estate agent. He is suppose to be a developer. Come on they both know better. The RDA bent over backwards to cooperate with Tousis. Any other developer who didn't submit an offer would have not even gotten on the agenda. It is about time Tom starts to follow the rules and stop all this game playing. ---DN

  12. Jim's People10/08/2009 9:15 AM

    This development is stupid, as are you! You can keep your project in your neighborhood. People like me and Ald. Spangenberg have been in this neighborhood for a very very long time. And if you think that we shouldn't have a say so, well then you know where to stick your gas station. I have spoken to Jim about this many many times and I can tell you that it will never happen. There will be a much better project coming in the future. Your organized effort to take over West Racine will be a complete failure dear sir. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

  13. His agent Karen Sorenson I thought because she is the listing Realtor her first duty was to the city. If so how can she be Tom's agent?
    Can she get paid by both sides?

  14. Jim's People10/08/2009 9:19 AM

    This development is stupid, as are you! You can keep your project in your neighborhood. People like me and Ald. Spangenberg have been in this neighborhood for a very very long time. And if you think that we shouldn't have a say so, well then you know where to stick your gas station. I have spoken to Jim about this many many times and I can tell you that it will never happen. There will be a much better project coming in the future. Your organized effort to take over West Racine will be a complete failure dear sir. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

  15. We do n't need a bulding full of twinkies in West Racine. And we sure don't need a certain element of people coming to our neighborhood to shop here. We have enough of them as it is.

  16. Oh Spangy, you are just jealous you do not have someone as hot as Zac helping you out.

  17. Jim's People10/08/2009 10:06 AM

    Jim does not need someone like Zac. Everything he has and everything he has acheived, he has done on his own. Jim does not need a "team". Even though we are behind him thru thick and thin. When you are true to Jesus, he will bless you the same way he has blessed Jim.

  18. But how can we have free will if Jesus' blessings interfere with things?

  19. Maybe Jesus can bless that junk furniture store and furniture - Amen!

  20. Jim's People10/08/2009 11:34 AM

    How can you say that Jesus Blessings interfere with everything. Jesus is the reason for everything! He is the reason for all creation, including West Racine you pagan fools. Go worship your earth gods and with them you will burn in hell!

  21. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  22. The trend in grocery stores is smaller, not larger. The grocery proposed by Tousis actually follows industry trends towards 10,000 to 15,000 ft groceries.

    The innovative project looks to reduce waste, recycle water, use energy-efficient lighting (AND possibly serve as demo project for other local businesses). He has proposed to use locally sourced materials and labor. And it is a mixed-use retail that would provide traffic for other local businesses.

    There seems to be a lot of anger, but I cannot understand why. This sounds like an incredible opportunity - increased tax base, sustainable design and increased business for local vendors.

    Everyone has to buy gas, isn't it better to buy it in a facility that manages its energy use and stormwater? Even better, that you can get your gas, AND milk, custom cut meat and fresh produce within feet of the other?

  23. What is the asking price on the property?

    Would you include an offer-to-purchase if you don't know the asking price on the property?

  24. I don't think it's fair that Mr. Tousis has to defend his proposal against criticism from Jesus. Jesus doesn't live in that neighborhood. And what developer could stand toe-to-toe against the Prince of Peace?

    If Jesus wants to throw His weight around in West Racine, then let Him make His own proposal for that corner. Gyros on manna probably taste better than pita bread.

  25. 12:39

    No way no how I think the store will be more then a stop and rob.
    We do not need any more stores like that. A full service store like a Pick and Save or the like right on. IMHO this is not that. This is no more then an attack on West Racine thinking outside the box on what to have in that neighborhood.

  26. I think some of you are confusing Jim Kaplan with Jim Spangenberg. Jim Kaplan is the Jesus Freak.

  27. Orbs - for once we agree - I won't even dismiss you this time.

  28. Jim's People10/08/2009 1:27 PM

    You people are all damned! You are living lives that are full of the devil's deceitfulness and you don't even know it.

  29. It seems like Mr. Tousis has been screwed by Zak Williams, his paid spokesperson. Zak was paid to work through and guide the project through all the political rules and regulations. He failed to advise Mr. T of this minor step which is proving to be a major stopping point to the project. If I were Mr. T, I would be mad at Mr. Williams for not discovering all the processes.

  30. Jimbo - I always enjoy how religious fanatics are always so self-righteous.

  31. Shame on Zac, the Milwaukee kid, for taking a cheap shot at our Mayor. You are incompetitant and trying to cover your inadequacies by blaming the mayor. The mayor doesn't have that kind of authority over this project any way.

  32. 12:58

    Is that your humble opinion based on your humble opinion OR based on an examination of the proposal and industry trends and standards?

  33. Mr. Tousis, part of your claim to being qualified to put a business on this premium lot is that you have other successful businesses. If you are so successful, how did you miss the detail of the option? Were you hoping pressure from union labor would allow you around the processes in place? And isn't part of your claim that you will use local labor? Why did you hire a guy from Milwaukee to be your spokesperson? You could have done better by representing yourself. When you are burying those gas tanks, will you miss any of the steps of installation? Think of what the consequences of that could be. A whole lot more damage than bible thumpers cursing at Aldermen.

  34. I don't remember reading that the Christian warehouse submitting an "offer to purchase" last night. If they did let's see it.

    Different rules for different people.

  35. 2:40

    It is flattering that you would think me to be Mr. Tousis. I assure you, I am not. I have been reading about this debate for weeks and do not understand.

    You would be correct that it would be foolish to overlook something as obvious as an option. Unless maybe the developer was told it was a requirement at the last minute. It seems that developers would network, so it would be known throughout the city that the option was a requirement. One would think that it would be published in the city regs or other documentation accessible to the public.

    One would think that the process of obtaining an option would be public (in writing), the times when an option is needed for submission of a proposal, as well as the exceptions to those rules.

    Before questioning someone's professional credentials, is it not prudent to examine why things are missing or why a path is chosen?

    From reading the articles and comments from the last couple of weeks that question could be posed to both city and developer.

  36. The City owns the property the Christian bookstore is purchasing and complied with all City requirements. West Racine is owned by the RDA and requirements for an offer are published. Last night Karen Sorensen admitted that Tousis and she did not submit an offer yet, so she knew it was required. Stop trying to divert blame away from the Tousis team. Last night was a great meeting because now everyone knows what has to be done to move forward. It is up to the Tousis team to finally follow procedures and do things right.

  37. Milwaukee Developer10/08/2009 4:13 PM

    If you read the article, that is not what she said.

    Let me get this straight, NO ONE in the history of the state of Wisconsin has ever had to submit an "offer to purchase" when dealing with the city. That is the form you fill out with your realtor when you are buying a house.

    Usually the developer and city staff meet ahead of time, negotiate a price, and then go in front of Redevelopment. It is pretty obvious to everyone that Brian O'Connell was sitting on his hands with this project.

    I know that is what Brian O'Connell does because 2 years ago I tried to talk to his office about developing a piece of land in the city of Racine and he did not return my phone calls. Apparently, me building multi-million dollar projects in Southeast Wisconsin and Chicago does not warrant a phone call returned. I have never had to submit an "offer to purchase" to any city. That is all worked out with staff ahead of time.

    And from what I hear, the way Brent Oglesby was treated last night was disgusting. I have worked with him in the past and he is one of the smartest people I know. Racine last two projects last night.

  38. Anon 3:23, My discussion was directed at Tom Tousis. I'm not sure who you are or why you feel so flattered that I was talking to you (who ever you are).

  39. It seems to me that Tousis and his team should spend more time speaking to the city/RDA and less to the Post and JT.

    Zac is just about the worst PR guy I have ever met. Some of his actions in the chambers last night demonstrate he isn't helping his cause. Amatuerish at best.

    Several people talked about Tom's ability to change and adapt to the input from the neighborhood. Case in point, he has deleted the car wash from the plan. (there is more to that story too, I think).

    In any case, if he continued to change and removed the gas pumps and put in writing (what a concept) there would be no video poker, almost 100% of the people would be behind this deal. When is the last time that happened?

    Do the right thing Tom. This is a walking destination, not at all like Walmart or Woodmans. Everyone has to drive there, not everyone will walk to your place. Make it less car centric and we will all shop and dine there.

  40. Gas stations don't make money off the gas they sell. Most of it goes to the oil companies. If this is true, why is Tom so determined to build a gas station. Wouldn't a more profitable business be better for him and ultimately for the neighborhood.

  41. If the "Offer to purchase" was such an important part, then why would the chairman of the Plan Commision ask that the proposal be sent to them. Just sounds like a "road block" to me.

  42. People what do you expect? We have a Realtor for a mayor and a Realtor that chairs a very important commision. Remember these two guy's were involved in the "Point Blue" disaster! Can anyone but me see the direction we are going?

  43. Why aren't there any more elected officials on that committee. Seems like a lot of power to give ordinary citizens that don't have to be held accountable by voters.

  44. I am all for this development IF a few things would change:

    I hope Tom reads this or someone brings these ideas to his attention. I think these changes will help get full neighborhood and RDA approval.

    1) NO gas station, instead

    2) move the restaurant and bank to the NE corner where the gas pumps would be, then

    3) the size of the grocery store can be increased, thus increasing grocery items for sale, more choice, etc.

    4) Choose green spaces over parking spaces, the farmers market can also double as parking when they are not there.

    5) Keep family hours. Tom, your hours during the week are until 12am, and 1am on the weekends. No family that I know of will be eating out or grocery shopping at that time. Remember, that West Racine is a family neighborhood.

    6) Entrances stay on Grove and West Blvd.

    For the grocery store to be successful (supported by the neighborhood) it will need to carry everything that someone would buy on a weekly basis (i.e. that you can buy at any other local grocery store). Having 3000+ more square feet by extending the grocery store will help Tom accomplish this and probably make him more money than selling gas.

  45. Maybe one of the reasons Tom is so insistant on the gas station portion is he'll get money from BP Franchise to help finance it?

  46. Zak Williams10/09/2009 3:19 PM

    Mike Sapp:

    1. Because of the limitations of the site, all the components of the project work in conjunction together. Taking away makes the project not profitable. It is not one component that makes it work, but all working together. With that being said Tom is doing everything he can to limit the impact on the neighbors. The canopy will be done to blend in with the historical character of the neighborhood, there will be state of the art lights connected to motion detectors, rain collection, and eliminating any runoff.

    2. No building can be moved to the NE corner because of the easements. There is a deep tunnel sewer line and a large WE Engergies power conduit. Neither can be built on. The fuel pumps fit right in between the easements, but barely.

    3. The size of the grocery store is already over 13,000 square feet, with over 10,000 for customer space. The trend in the industry is to build these smaller neighborhood grocery stores. Both Walmart and Tesco have started building 10,000-15,000 square foot stores.

    4. The Farmer's Market area will double as parking when they are not there. The site is not large enough for a ton of green space, but there will be some geared towards eliminating any runoff from the parking lot.

    5. The hours on the application that you mention (12AM/1AM) are the ones when employees will be there stocking the shelves, cleaning, prep in the kitchen, etc. The hours of operation end much earlier (9PM/10PM).

  47. Zak Williams10/09/2009 3:22 PM

    6. There are entrances and exits on Grove (only for the bank) and West Blvd. The only one on Washington is going to be limited (entrance only) to help aid traffic flow.

    As I stated in the first part of the response. The building cannot run along Washington Ave, nor West Blvd, because of the easements that cannot be built over. The building can not be built any larger.

    I suggest everyone, and it looks like you did, check out the proposal Tom Tousis filed with the city. It should help answer any questions.

  48. Zak Williams10/09/2009 3:24 PM

    Oh, and Anon 1:59, the fuel is not going to be a BP brand so no money from BP. Tom Tousis had a special blend created for him, so it will be a Better Day station. This allows him more flexibility in signage and the canopy design. BP never would have allowed a train depot style canopy.

  49. Tommy - tell them to shove it and go somewhere else where they understand tax revenue, additional walking traffic, the advantage of a grocery store/butcher shop. The convenience of a bank for those that don't drive etc.

  50. Tom Tousis had a special blend? How exactly was he involved in this creation and it sounds very expensive. Oh yea, Zak get a new suit. You kind of looked like a used cars salesman.

  51. Thanks Zak for responding to my post.

    Just trying to come up with some ideas that may help this project along. You are right, I do not know all the specifics about the easements, etc, but now I understand a bit more of what Tom has to work with in order to plan his development.

    Good luck in dealing with the City of Racine. I can now imagine how frustrating it must be after witnessing how our city officials acted at last Wednesday's RDA meeting.

  52. Zak

    I do not belive a word you say. I belive that the gas station and "store" would be open to the times listed. The main point of at least "the Store" and Gas Station is to sell as much beer as they can. Since until its in writing with the City I think the other major focus is the slot machines. $$$$$ Tom I think would put in a "payday loan" business if you could find a way.
    I can not believe that Tom had a special blend made just for him.... That's right one of the few refineries switched over just for Tom because there nice like that.
    I have read how others think Tom should put up "Little Vegas" I mean these neighborhood stores elsewhere and have invited him to do so.

    Tom, please go to where you are wanted.

  53. Jim's People10/11/2009 1:24 AM

    First of all, I heard from my alderman, that Tom is not even a christian. Jim has said that Tom is probably a muslim and that his profits would support terrorism against America. Jim you are right, these people are out to destroy our country. They have declared a holy war.

  54. Keith W. Deschler10/11/2009 2:31 AM

    Wow,holy war,terrorism? I think someone needs to back off the coffee and go to bed for a couple of days

  55. To Jim's People -

    Tom is a great friend of mine and can tell you that you will never find one better. I have a few things to say to you and your alderman.

    No. 1 Tom is and has been a Christian for ever. His family has been Christian since right around the time that Christianity actually began. If you had a brain you would notice that the New Testament was written in Greek, and Tom has been Greek since he was born and his family probably since the time of the birth of Jesus himself.

    No. 2 You are a complete idiot.

    No. 3 Your alderman, and especially if he's who I think he is, is a complete idiot.

    No. 4 You and your alderman should go to hell.

    No. 5 His profits don't go to support terrorism, they go to support his family.

    No. 6 I can tell you that he loves this country as much as anyone, and would never want to destroy it. Destroying the country would destroy his customers, and I can tell you that he for sure wouldn't want that.

    No. 7 Tom is a loving family man and a hard worker. He for sure doesn't deserve the crap that you and your alderman have been saying about him and his family.

    No. 8 Have you ever heard the phrase, "What goes around comes around?" Then you better look for it when it comes back around.

    I will defend Tom till the end!

  56. Alter Boy, and I will be there too have not only Tom's back but yours as well!