October 10, 2009

'Pepi's Pub and Grill' proposed for Sixth Street

Sixth Street is hoppin'.

The freshly rebuilt Downtown street is fast becoming the city's center for nightlife. Established bars Henry & Wanda's, Park 6, Blue Rock and McAuliffe's on the Square are now joined by a revived Tango Bar and the ambitious Raytown Roadhouse bar and restaurant.

And now another restaurant is in the works.

Joe Madison, co-owner of Pepi's Deli on Main Street, is seeking a liquor license to open Pepi's Pub and Grill at 618 Sixth St. Madison is scheduled to appear before the City Council's Public Safety and Licensing Committee on Monday.

The proposed site is located on the west end of Downtown's Sixth Street. Here's a photo:

618 Sixth St.

Also on the agenda for Monday's Public Safety and Licensing committee:

* The owners of Coasters, Kenny's, Neighborhood Bar and The Club are requested to appear before the committee for incidents at their taverns.

* Park 6's owner is called for a three month update on its tavern.

* Joey LeGath, the owner of four bars in the Racine area, asked to talk with the committee about the changing clientele in his bars. Some bar owners are concerned the committee's aggressive enforcement of taverns is forcing troublesome customers to find new bars.

* The committee will consider tweaking its quota on Class A liquor licenses to allow sold businesses to keep their licenses regardless of the quota.

Dickert says he didn't know about Bloom's past;
NAACP wants review of city's background checks

Mayor John Dickert said he didn't know the man planning to build an 80,000 square foot factory in the city was convicted 21 years ago of shooting into an occupied church in Kenosha.

Jerry Bloom, the owner of Treasures Media, served time in prison from 1988-90 for firing a rifle into Kenosha's Friendship Baptist Church. Prosecutors at the time accused Bloom of being a "skinhead" and alleged the shooting was racially motivated. Friendship Baptist is a primarily African-American church. Twelve people were inside at the time of the shooting, but none were injured.

After talking with Bloom Friday, Dickert said he was satisfied Bloom had put the incident behind him.

"Everything I understand is he did something that was not very smart 20 years ago," Dickert said. "He's turned his life around."

Dickert made special mention of Bloom's efforts to employ inmates and ex-inmates at his company, which has grown at a remarkable pace since 2002. Bloom has turned a small Christian bookstore into one of the largest distributors of Christian books in the U.S. The Racine-based company sells books and gifts around the world through the Internet, and hopes to open 12 retail stores between Milwaukee and Chicago in the coming years.

"He (Bloom) is the epitome of everything we're trying to do," Dickert said. "... He's helping the most downtrodden in our community. Of course I'm going to support him."

But at least once group is asking why the city was caught unaware of Bloom's past. The NAACP is requesting a meeting with government officials involved with vetting developers' backgrounds.

Michael Shields, president of the local NAACP and a member of the Racine City Council, said he was concerned city officials rushed the project through the approval process. The proposed development in the Southside Industrial Park was basically approved before it ever went public, Shields said. It should have gone through the same review other developments are subject to, he said.

Bloom hopes to build his $3 million to $4 million building on the former Jacobsen-Textron site by next October. If the company stays on the site for 10 years it will receive the 5.4 acres of land for free. Normally it would cost $35,000 per acre.

Lighthouse Quilters' show a riot of color and artistry

Outside the Case High School fieldhouse, eighth graders from Racine Youth Sports were playing football in the biting cold Saturday afternoon.

But it was inside where the real action was going on, as the Lighthouse Quilters Guild held its biennial Lighthouse Legacies Quilt Show, which continues Sunday. Well over 250 quilts were on display as scores of women -- quilting is still mostly a women's avocation -- roamed the aisles, oohing over this and that, details of stitching and color that most of us wouldn't even notice.

But which added up to a delightfully varied world of color and pattern, artistry and craftsmanship. Everywhere you looked, there was a new design, or a new take on an old design. Many of us think first of the traditional quilt patterns, and they were well represented. But so were so-called "art" quilts, as well as new takes on flowers, birds, animals, geometric shapes; even the Queen of Spades made an appearance. And then there were quilts entered in the Guild's scrap challenge, as well as a traveling exhibit of Water Challenge Quilts by the Professional Art Quilters Alliance of Chicago, comprised of more than 50 panels with H2O as their theme.

But enough talk; let's see some quilts!

Mary Piper, one of two Honored Quilters, with Hummingbird Heaven

Honored Quilter Rhonda Rodero with Desert Blaze

Barb Van Ruden shows detail on Donna Derstadt's
Reminiscence At Last! which won Best in Show

Sonja Bengston with Manga Tack (Many Thanks in Swedish)

No quilter was happier than Sonja Bengston of Racine, whose Manga Tack quilt won 1st place in the First Judged Entry category -- a category for quilters new to competition. And in fact, not only was her winning quilt the first she ever entered in a show, it is the first quilt she ever made! Bengston retired a few years ago after a career as a first-grade teacher and bought a sewing machine. "I looked at it for a few years and said to myself, 'I wonder what this does?' " she said.

Finally, she drew on a sheet of paper, freehand, what she wanted one block to look like ... and then, over about a month, she sewed it. Next month, another block. The complete quilt took her about a year. "When it was done, I put it in the bedroom, and the colors didn't go with anything. So my husband and I wallpapered, painted and changed everything to go with the quilt."

The name, Manga Tack was a natural, she said, giving thanks to the "many ladies who gave me advice."

Sandra Blott's Field of Poppies, 1st Place, Quilted Wall Hanging, Group

Winter Garden by Susan Wojciechowski,
1st Place Appliqued/Pieced Lap Quilt

Mary Piper's Nine-Patch Hourglass: Best Hand Quilting

Delores Poplar's Square-Dancing Dots, 3rd Place Applique Lap Quilts

Detail of Christy Schliesmann's Diamond Flowers,
2nd Place winner in the Pieced Wall Hanging category

Detail from Here a sheep, there a sheep by Jerianne Feiten

Detail from Sandra Blott's Woodland Creatures

Diane Dunaway's Queen of Quilts:
1st Place Wall Hanging, Mixed Techniques

The traveling exhibit of Water Challenge Quilts

Small part of wall of quilts made for charities and servicemen

This vendor's material may find its way into next year's quilts

October 9, 2009

HALO makes it official: Cookman is new director

The Board of Directors of HALO has made official what we reported on Sept. 30: they have a new executive director. Here's their take on it, along with a picture of Kevin Cookman:

The HALO Board of Directors is pleased to announce that Kevin Cookman has been hired as Executive Director of the Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization, Inc. (HALO) and will assume his responsibilities on Oct. 19.

Responsibilities include leading, directing and managing the organization to maximize outcomes in a fiscally responsible manner. A graduate of Purdue University with a Master's in Business Administration, Cookman has a wide variety of well-honed management and leadership skills. As the president and program manager of a non-profit working in developing countries for the last 4 ½ years, he discovered a model for a Transition Home that allows each house to become financially self-sustaining. He will be using this model to creatively address sustainability needs and new projects for HALO.

Cookman has a history with HALO having led a team of 150 volunteers from Evangelical United Methodist Church in Racine in a special volunteer day for HALO for the past two years. Creative, mission-driven, inquisitive, and relationship-focused, Cookman is committed to helping HALO achieve financial sustainability while continuing to build on the existing strengths of the organization. Cookman lives in Racine, serves on several different boards, is a member of Rotary Founders and is married with two children.

HALO was created four years ago as a community led effort to provide services for those experiencing homelessness. HALO is committed to preventing chronic homelessness in Racine County by meeting shelter needs, coordinating supportive services and providing community leadership. HALO has served over 3,000 individuals since its open

Feingold rejects proposed Afghan troop surge

Maybe it's just me, but on the day President Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize it seems strange to be discussing whether he will send an additional 40,000 U.S. troops to fight in Afghanistan.

That timing aside, the Los Angeles Times reported today, "Key Democrats on Capitol Hill warned Thursday that a decision by President Obama to send more troops to Afghanistan could trigger an uprising within the party, possibly including an attempt to cut off funds for the buildup."

One of those key Democrats is Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who favors a timetable for withdrawal.

Feingold appeared Thursday on CNN and said the President would be committing a "very serious error" if he went along with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's recommendation to send up to 40,000 more troops.

"I would take whatever appropriate steps are necessary to try to persuade (Obama) not to do it, including using my vote," Feingold said on CNN's "Situation Room," as reported on Wispolitics.com. "It's time to start thinking about how we disengage from this situation... the appropriate strategy is to draw down in Afghanistan."

More of his remarks are HERE, along with comments by Rep. Dave Obey, D-Wausau, who also rejects the so-called Afghanistan surge.

Obey said, "The military cost alone would approach a trillion dollars or more.... I do not believe the American people will buy it. A policy that is not sustainable is no policy at all; it is a Hail Mary pass that even Brett Favre would be highly unlikely to complete."

October 8, 2009

Art with a four-legged provenance

It was your typical art show opening: a table piled high with hors d'oeuvres and wine and a roomful of well-dressed gallery-goers munching, sipping and pondering the new paintings on the wall. Pointing at this or that. Leaning forward for a closer look. Trading cliches about the surreal examples of colorful expressionism (What?) before them.

As a Washington Post critic once wrote, "Talking about art fixes it in the memory; it makes the evanescent experience of art more real."

Even when you think (art cliche No. 46), "My kid could do that."

Even when the art was painted by a skunk, or by a rhinoceros.

Yes, it was the Racine Zoo's second annual Animal Artisans: A Gallery Showing, at Monfort's Fine Art Gallery on Main Street, a gallery which usually specializes in works by more conventional artists.

Gallery owner Miriam Hoyum seemed somewhat conflicted when I attempted to bait her with the questions, "Doesn't this show undermine all you believe about fine art? Doesn't it promulgate the idea that "art" is anything we say it is -- and denigrate the other works on your walls?"

She took my hectoring in good humor, noting that the animal artisans' show would remain on the gallery's wall for just one night, to benefit the Zoo. But she also defended the art -- up to a point -- by noting that the various animal artistes demonstrated a clear understanding about what they were doing, had their own artistic vision, as it were. The orangutan who strings glass beads into necklaces, for example, very definitely rejects the beads he doesn't like, pushing them away; he strings a few beads and then removes those that -- to his finely developed eye? -- don't complement the others. And the rhino who paints with his lower lip -- you have to be there, I'm told -- is very deliberate about the pigments he chooses. And stops when he decides each painting is done.

And so, the gallery-goers turned their attention toward the evening's visiting artist. A porcupine was originally scheduled, but -- I was told on good authority -- he "copped an attitude." Artistic temperament, donchaknow. Instead, the gallery enjoyed a painting demonstration by Stinky, the skunk.

Stinky did his thing like the professional he is, carefully dipping his feet into the pigment and then spreading it on the canvas. Only occasionally did he have to be reminded why he was there, and all that took was a clicker wielded by his handler assistant. And when he was done, well I've seen worse hung on friends' refrigerators ... painted by their exceptionally gifted offspring. Actually, if you didn't know... well, some of the animals' paintings didn't seem that out of place on the gallery's walls. Only when you looked closely did you realize that many of the works were mostly colorful footprints made by Lily the stork, or Blue-Green the penguin. But very gifted footprints...

Stinky's effort was auctioned off for $75. A necklace strung by Max, the orangutan, also went for $75. Could you get that for one of those paintings on your refrigerator? I didn't think so. Other paintings were sold via a silent auction.

Note: No animals were harmed in the making of this exhibition. All money raised will benefit the zoo and its inhabitants.)

Comments on Bloom overcomes criminal past

Post comments here on the Gerald Bloom story.

Bloom overcomes criminal past to build thriving Christian book business

Update: I met with Gerald Bloom today at this Treasures store on Durand Avenue. When I walked in he was just starting a half-hour meeting with his staff explaining his past. A few key points on the 1988 crime:

* He was excessively drunk at the time of the shooting.

* He fired the gun from his hip in no particular direction (which is supported by a Kenosha News story that reported a police officer saw Bloom fire the rifle without aiming).

* He wasn't part of a white supremacist group and didn't target the African-American church across the street from his house.

* The accusations of racism came from a witness who cut a deal with the District Attorney's office, Bloom said. Prosecutors also labeled him a "skinhead."

But the more interesting part of Bloom's story started 10 years ago when his wife asked him for a divorce. She then was saved by the church. After being separated for a year, Bloom also was saved and he reconciled with his wife. (Bloom said reconciling with his wife was important because his parents had marital troubles and he didn't want to pass on that type of relationship to his children.)

They then bought the Treasures Christian bookstore in Kenosha. The bookstore was a small, barely profitable business until one day Bloom asked a distributor about buying returned and overstocked Christian books. The question sparked a booming international business.

Bloom buys discarded books at 15 cents on the dollar and sells them, mostly online, at a nice profit. In the past five years he's grown his inventory at a staggering pace, requiring two moves and now plans for a brand new 80,000-square-foot building in Racine's Southside Industrial Park.

As for his past, Bloom said it's long behind him. Treasures makes a point to hire inmates and ex-inmates in hopes of giving them stable ground to build on, Bloom said. He also once walked right into HALO's homeless shelter and hired people. One man used the job to turn his life around and now has a $100,000 a year job in Tennessee. Another ex-employee just landed a high-paying job in Kenosha.

Bloom's staff members are a diversity of races; they responded favorably to his life story during the meeting on Friday. By the end people were laughing and ready to head back to work.

Following the staff meeting, Bloom said his time in prison still gives him insight into what it's like for people in similar situations. He considered those dark days in the late 1980s as part of God's will.

He also attributes Treasures' success to God. "I tell my staff I'd take credit if I deserved it, but I'm just not that good," said Bloom, who described business connections that opened up for him for no rational reason.

Looking back, Bloom said he never imagined this type of success while sitting in prison as a troubled 19-year-old. But then again, he never imagined five years ago Treasures would take off like it has.

"I have no idea what it will be like five years from now," he said.

(One thing Bloom isn't looking for is a massive company that collapses under its own weight. He's more interested in many smaller companies that grow independent of each other.)

As an aside, Bloom credited Mayor John Dickert, City Development Director Brian O'Connell, RCEDC's Jenny Trick and the BCI Group for helping him put together his plans for the Southside Industrial Park building, which is being designed with solar panels, bamboo floors and other environmentally friendly materials and concepts.

"I didn't know a thing about buildings," Bloom said, adding Trick and the BCI Group were particularly helpful.

Original post:

Gerald Bloom has turned his life around.

The owner of Treasures Media in Racine made a local splash Wednesday when he announced plans to build an 80,000-square-foot warehouse in Racine to expand his Christian book distribution company. Bloom plans to add 26 employees and hopefully grow from there. (Right: Bloom addresses the Redevelopment Authority on Wednesday.)

Wednesday's announcement, complete with television cameras and an appearance with Mayor John Dickert, is a far cry from Bloom's dark past.

The Kenosha native served time in prison in 1989 and 1990 after he fired a rifle into an occupied church. Twelve people, including three children, were attending services at Friendship Baptist Church in Kenosha when the shooting occurred around 7 p.m. on Aug. 8, 1988. No one was injured, but a stained glass window was shot out.

A 19-year-old Bloom, who graduated from St. Catherine's High School, and 17-year-old Richard Harris were arrested for the shooting, according to a Kenosha News article from the time. During the trial, prosecutors accused Bloom of being a "skinhead" and alleged the shooting was racially motivated. Bloom denied he was part of any type of white supremacist group.

But reports and evidence from the time linked Bloom to racially motivated crime.

Harris, who was Bloom's roommate, was convicted of spray painting racially charged graffiti on a fence in the neighborhood, according to Kenosha News articles.

During Bloom's trial, Harris testified he was with Bloom when the shooting occurred. He said Bloom drank heavily that day and had a discussion about not liking black people.

Also, at a community hearing, the Kenosha News reported in August 1988 that neighbors to the church believed Bloom was part of a white supremacist group.

Bloom was also convicted in 1990 for being part of a group that confronted a couple, chased them in a car and then kicked out a car window.

Despite his past, the owner of Treasures Media, who didn't return phone calls from RacinePost on Thursday, is thriving. Bloom and his wife bought a small Christian bookstore in Kenosha in 2002 and turned it into a successful online business. Bloom moved the company to a 26,000-square-foot building on Durand Avenue in Racine and is now planning another expansion.

Bloom announced Wednesday he was planning to build an 80,000-square-foot distribution facility in Racine's Southside Industrial Park, which is the former Jacobsen-Textron property. The warehouse and office will be built on 5.4 acres of land and employ about 60 people.

The city is giving Bloom the $35,000 per acre land for free, as long as he lives up to terms of an agreement he signed with the city.

Post comments here.

Vote for new endangered species license plate

Eastern Bluebird... or other choices below

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' Endangered Resources Program will introduce a new license plate to showcase work to protect the state's natural heritage and the habitats that support them -- and you get to help choose what's on it.

This will be in addition to the original wolf license plate introduced in 1995. The new plate will be issued early next year. It will cost an additional $25 with the money used to support the DNR's efforts to protect endangered plants and animals.

To help decide which of the four plates should be added, vote here, from midnight tonight until Oct. 19. See the Frequently Asked Questions page for more information.

Great Blue Heron


Red-headed Woodpecker

Forum: To build commuter rail, officials first have to fix bus systems

Standing room only at Wednesday's night KRM forum.

A forum was held in Racine Wednesday night on KRM as a "game-changer." Here's a few notes from the forum ...

* It was a good-sized turnout. About 110 people attended the forum, which was held in the DeKoven Center's Great Hall. It was a standing-room-only crowd full of local business, government and community leaders.

A panel assembled at Wednesday night's KRM forum.

* As is the trend in recent months, speakers focused on KRM as part of a wider "transit" issue that includes southeastern Wisconsin's eight bus systems. There's no dedicated funding source (ie. a sales tax) to pay for buses in the Milwaukee region, which is unusual. Nineteen of 22 U.S. cities considered peers of Milwaukee have some sort of tax or revenue source to pay for buses. The lack of dedicated funding in southeastern Wisconsin is creating a crisis in funding that's resulted in fare increases and service cuts, according to Ken Yunker, head of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.

* The reality is KRM won't move forward until the region figures out a way to pay for buses. Mayor John Dickert continued his stance that buses should be handled on a regional basis. This would allow buses to connect Racine to Union Grove, Kenosha and Milwaukee, while also linking Burlington to Milwaukee and Kenosha. Now, the systems are too scattered to effectively move people from one city to another, which hurts efforts to create a regional economy between Milwaukee and Chicago.

A KRM supporter dresses the part.

* There's still no talk about how buses will be paid for. The Legislature and governor created the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority, which can levy an $18 car rental tax to pay for commuter rail. But Milwaukee and Milwaukee County officials are making sure that won't happen until buses dealt with. In Milwaukee that could be a sales tax, but a sales tax in Racine or Racine County is unlikely.

* That leaves open speculation on how the Racine area will pay for transit. No one is talking specifics, but get ready for some discussion about a "wheel tax," which is allowed under state law. A wheel tax charges vehicle owners a fee on top of the state's annual registration fee. All proceeds from a wheel tax must be used for transportation-related costs.

* A sales tax was, briefly, mentioned. But any sales would apparently require a referendum.

* Jim Eastman, a long-time advocate for commuter rail in Racine, emceed the forum. To cheers from the crowd, he vowed not to retire from his job until he can take commuter rail from Racine to Milwaukee or Chicago.

* A couple of officials pointed out that even if estimates about the potential impact of KRM are way off, the numbers are still staggering. KRM-backers claim the train could, in the long run, create 71,000 jobs and $2 billion in development along the rail line. Even those numbers are cut in half, and half again, they're still major economic development for southeastern Wisconsin and Racine.

* RAMAC's Roger Caron, RCEDC's Gordie Kacala, state Sen. John Lehman and Jody Karls were recognized for their work in support of KRM.

* The title of the forum, "Tapping into Transit as a 'Game-Changer' was inspired by an article published on RacinePost.com.

Part of the crowd at the forum.

City considering moratorium on development around potential commuter rail station

The city is shutting down development around its potential commuter rail train station until the state makes a final decision on KRM.

That was bad news Wednesday evening for Racine-based developer Brent Oglesby, who was hoping to build a residential and commercial development across from Racine's possible KRM station. He appeared before the city's Redevelopment Authority to request an option to buy RDA-owned on State Street. The response he heard from the RDA: We're not selling.

The authority, which is the legal owner of the land Oglesby was seeking, voted 4-2 against giving him the option he needed to pursue his development. The RDA then voted 4-2 to "receive and file" Oglesby's proposal, which essentially means it's dead.

Pete Karas and Scott Terry voted in support of Oglesby. John Crimmings, Jim Spangenberg, David Lange and Robert Ledvina voted against.

John Crimmings, chairman of the RDA, said the authority literally wasn't selling the land. It had no broker for the property, did not issue a request for proposal and had done no research in recent years on the land's value. Instead, the RDA planned to hold the property until KRM is sorted out, one way or another, on the state level.

Crimmings and others intimated they would also seek a 12-month moratorium on development around State Street's Racine Transit Center, which is the potential home for a commuter rail stop. It was actually motioned to vote on the moratorium Wednesday night, but Karas noted the idea wasn't on the meeting agenda. The RDA will likely take up the issue in November.

The moratorium was needed to prevent a flood of developers (like Oglesby) from trying to buy up land around the commuter rail station, Crimmings said.

Karas responded by asking if the city was really concerned a flood of developers would descend on Racine. The comment drew a laugh from the audience, but gained no traction for Oglesby's project.

The RDA's vote is the end of the road, at least for now, of Oglesby's $6.6 million project, which included a statue honoring Corinne Owens, Racine's legendary civil rights activist. While Oglesby's project is done, for now, Mayor John Dickert announced this week no matter what is built on State Street it will include a section honoring Owens.

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.

New book distribution facility will bring 26 new jobs

Jerry Bloom and Mayor John Dickert with rendering of new facility

Racine took another small bite out of its 16.2% unemployment rate today, with the announcement of a new book distribution facility that will add at least 26 jobs to the city's workforce.

Jerry Bloom, president of Treasures Media, which operates a Christian book store and distribution facility now located in 50,000 sq. ft. of rented space on Durand Avenue in the Badger Plaza strip mall, first came before the Redevelopment Authority this afternoon, and then -- after getting unanimous approval there -- before a press conference in the mayor's office to show off plans for an 80,000 sq. ft. facility to be built in the Southside Industrial Park, the former Jacobsen-Textron property.

Treasures is the largest discount Christian book dealer in the country, according to Bloom, selling "hundreds of thousands of books per month" to wholesalers, retailers and online to consumers. The company has about 26 employees -- Bloom said it is growing so fast he can't keep track of the exact number -- but expects to double that in three years.

The distribution warehouse will be built with "green" technology -- perhaps with solar panels for electricity -- and the expectation that it may expand to 130,00 sq. ft. or more in years to come.

It will be located on 5.4 acres in the northern portion of the industrial park, along Memorial Drive. Although the city "normally" charges $35,000 an acre for such space, according to City Development Director Brian O'Connell, in this instance the land is being given free to Treasures -- one-tenth of the "forgivable mortgage" being forgiven for each year of the ten-year term -- and the company will only have access to as much space is needed now for the first phase.

Mayor John Dickert explained that the city would still earn "incremental" money, through taxes on the new building, and would have complete "clawback" provisions if the company did not live up to its side of the bargain by producing and maintaining the number of new jobs specified.

Bloom said the jobs would pay anywhere from $8 up. "The sky's the limit," he said. Under the agreement with the city, O'Connell said, Treasures "will give preference to Racine residents when filling positions." The jobs fit well with the "blue collar skill set where we have the highest unemployment."

At the press conference -- with almost enough Aldermen present for a quorum -- Dickert said the city is "breaking the cycle. This is a great day for Racine," he said, also noting the 28 new jobs announced last week when A&E said it would consolidate its Texas operations here.

"People tell us every day, where are the jobs, where are the jobs?" Dickert said. "Well, the jobs are coming."

County Executive Bill McReynolds said, "Having a project so close to the area of high unemployment in the city is great news."

Bloom, who bought a small retail store in Kenosha in 2002 before expanding and moving to Racine, right, almost four years ago, said "We're bringing hope to the city." Noting his company's rapid growth -- 40% per year -- he said, "The only thing holding us back is space." He hopes to break ground on the new warehouse in March, and complete it by October. Construction will be by Bukacek Construction Inc., and is expected to cost $3- to $4 million.

The company has a Manhattan sales office, and both retail and wholesale websites. It is expected to keep its retail store open at 4103 Durand Avenue, adjacent to the new AJ Wright clothing store.

Wide selection is evident at the current Treasures store

46% of JohnsonDiversey sold for $477 million;
'Johnson' will disappear from company's name

Major changes came to SC Johnson's JohnsonDiversey Inc. today and, to be perfectly honest, we're not sure we understand all of them.

Here's what we do know:
  • Clayton Dubilier & Rice bought a 46% share of the company for $477 million.
  • The 'Johnson' part of the name is being dropped.
  • The Johnson family retains 50% ownership.
Some of the other portions of the story, gleaned from early web postings from London, Racine and New York include:
JohnsonDiversey has 800 employees in Racine, 2,000 in the U.S. and 10,800 worldwide. (Three years ago, the company had 1,000 employees here and 13,500 worldwide.) Company spokesman John Matthews said, "We don't expect any employment changes as a result of this transaction. We have announced plans to invest in a new manufacturing plant in the Racine area, which will retain our current 80 manufacturing employees here." That plant, moving production from Waxdale, will be located at or near the distribution center built two years ago off Highway 20 near the Renaissance Building Park.

To learn more, and to see what Curtis Johson has to say about "this exciting development in the evolution of our company," check the links above. A short video with Johnson -- "This is a new phase, leveraging the foundation that we've built" -- and Ed Lonergan, JohnsonDiversey President and CEO, is HERE.

In 2006, JohnsonDiversey sold its Johnson Polymer subsidiary to BASF for $470 million.

October 6, 2009

City Council approves Seventh St. roundabout, workout pay for firefighters

Seventh Street roundabout (click to enlarge)

Downtown Racine is set to get its first roundabout in 2011.

The City Council voted Tuesday night to approve a roundabout in front of City Hall as part of a plan to rebuild Seventh Street. The plan calls for a significant overhaul of the awkward "V" intersection where Sixth and Seventh streets intersect.

Paul P. Harris Plaza, the small park at the intersection with the clock, named after the founder of Rotary International who was born here, will increase in size with the roundabout. The greenspace in front of City Hall will shrink.

While work won't begin until 2011, city officials had to make a decision about the intersection now to give state planners time to prepare the project.

The state is involved with the Seventh Street because it's technically state Highway 20. This is a good thing for the city because federal money will cover 80 percent of the project's cost. The city will pick up the rest.

State and city officials will make some decisions on the project in coming months, and WisDOT will prepare it for bid in December 2010. Work is scheduled to begin in Spring 2011.

The project is estimated to cost $5 million.

Firefighters' workout bonus

Racine firefighters will get an extra $6.50 per hour for working out under a contract approved by the City Council Tuesday night.

The council passed the agreement after a debate led by Alderman Sandy Weidner, who opposed the provision.

The extra pay is limited to 100 hours per year per firefighter. The hope is the contract provision will encourage firefighters to get in better shape.

Raytown Roadhouse

The Raytown Roadhouse, a country-western-themed bar on Sixth Street, got its liquor license Tuesday night. The City Council approved the Class "B" license with no discussion.

Owners Pete Karas and Jim Spodick got some additional good news Tuesday night. The council rejected two liquor licenses, which freed up a non-reserve license for the Raytown Roadhouse.

State law limits how many liquor licenses a city can issue. Once the city hits its quota, it can issue additional "reserve" licenses for $10,000 a piece. Karas and Spodick had to pay the $10,000 for their license, but will now be refunded $9,500 because the city fell under its state quota.

The Raytown Roadhouse is planning a grand opening for Saturday, Oct. 17.

Halloween Party

A proposed Halloween Party that would have shut down the 500 block of Main Street on Oct. 31 failed to win approval from the City Council. John

Armored Car

The Racine Police Department may soon own an armored car. Police Chief Kurt Wahlen is seeking permission to accept a 1999 Ford E-350 armored car from Garda Cash Logistics. Wahlen's request will be taken up by the Public Safety and License Committee.

Redevelopment Authority has final say over purchase of West Racine development

A procedural note about Wednesday's Redevelopment Authority meeting ...

The seven-member RDA has final say over whether to give Tom Tousis an option to the develop the 1.5-acre lot at the corner of Washington Avenue and West Boulevard. Unlike City Council committees, which make recommendations to the full council, the RDA is a stand-alone entity because it is the legal owner of the land.

That means any developer who wants to build on authority-owned land needs approval from the RDA to proceed. In Tousis's case, he needs the RDA to grant him an option on the site before the City Council will consider his project. In other words, Wednesday's meeting is a critical vote for the controversial West Racine project and, in theory, the RDA could stop the proposal before its reviewed by the City Council.

One member of the RDA is elected. Alderman Jim Spangenberg represents the City Council on the authority. The other members are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council to five-year terms.

Members include: Spangenberg, Pete Karas, Scott Terry, David Lange, John Crimmings, Cory Mason and Robert Ledvina. The City Development department staffs the RDA.

The RDA used to have two aldermen. That requirement changed after Karas resigned his seat and the council voted to reduce the required number of aldermen on the RDA from two to one.

October 5, 2009

Mt. Pleasant sets $13.5 million village hall budget

Concept plan for Mt. Pleasant's new Municipal Campus;
village hall and police station are at upper left; recplex at bottom

In one respect, Mt. Pleasant's Trustees and Building Committee gave everyone exactly what they wanted Monday night. Their meeting to set a budget for the new village hall/police station complex ended about 7:15 p.m., plenty of time to get home before the Packers/Vikings kickoff.

But when it came to actually setting a budget, well, not everyone went home happy. There had been much talk about building costs -- how, for example, Norway built its municipal building for about $90 per square foot, and some trustees and members of the building committee thought that was a price target worth shooting for (and perhaps attainable in this economy). And yet, when push came to shove, a vote to set Mt. Pleasant's budget at $10.5 million failed 4-3. Instead, trustees voted by the same margin to set a budget of $13.5 million, for what is expected to be, roughly, a building of 65,000 sq. ft.

That works out to more than $200 per sq. ft.

For the record, the same three trustees who voted for the $10.5 million budget -- Harry Manning, Karen Albeck and Ken Flones -- were on the losing side of the $13.5 million vote.

There was no question at Monday's meeting which side the audience was on: austerity. Almost everyone who spoke -- as they did last week -- came out for living within the limits of the $10 million gift for a new village hall complex. Village administrator Mike Andreasen, however, preferred to talk about how the village is living well within its borrowing capacity, even if it borrows $2.5 million to build the new complex. And former trustee Mary Carrington said, "It boggles me" that some trustees are "reducing the cost so much."

Albeck remained unconvinced. "We need to live within our harvest," she said, arguing that the budget should be set at no more than $10.5 million. A complex three times as large as Norway's 20,000 sq. ft., built for the same square-foot cost, would come to just $5.8 million she said. "I believe it's very do-able." As for the size, she suggested that holding court more often would reduce the need for a large courtroom. The more the debate went on, she said, "the more confused I am that it's even an issue."

On the other side was Joe Clementi, who said the village received a $10 million estimate once before -- 15 years ago. "Cost have gone up; needs have gone up," he said, noting "Our Police Department is so overtaxed it could be a liability."

Harry Manning said part of the problem is "expectations," but he said of all the telephone calls he's received, "nobody's telling me to spend the $15 million."

In the end, the board tried to come at the issue from two directions. One group, led by Manning, tried to pass a $10.5 million budget, with the understanding Bray Associates Architects would present "options" for such additions as a police firing range. Another, led by Sonny Havn and John Hewitt, wanted a $13.5 million budget, with the architects instructed to look for ways to underspend that amount. And, of course, there was always the $15.5 million option offered last week, for a 75,000 sq. ft. facility -- "too high a price," said Havn. "We're all looking to make it less."

The $13.5 million version was the one the building committee passed on to the trustees, by a 5-0 vote.

The trustees first voted on Manning's motion: a $10.5 million budget for a 65,000 sq. ft. complex, with the understanding that the architects might offer as "options" room for dispatch and a police firing range, for the board to vote on later. "Better for the architects to have a lower number and then have them explain why it can't be met," said Albeck. That motion failed 4-3.

That brought up Hewitt's motion for a $13.5 million, 65,000 sq. ft. building. Manning pointed out its $200 per sq. ft. cost -- "That's one of the things that concerns me." -- and Hewitt said, "We'll leave that up to the professionals." The vote was 4-3 in favor -- voting in favor were Hewitt, Ingrid Tiegel, Carolyn Milkie and and Havn-- and the meeting was over at 7:15 p.m.

One issue left undecided last week was how to finance the Public Works Department, which some trustees felt should be included in the overall project -- or at least within its budget. The architects presented a conceptual site plan last night (above) that showed the Recreational building trustees hope to attract to the complex, planning to sell the necessary 25-30 acres for $1.5 million or so -- enough to finance a Public Works building when the time comes.

Turner splits with Dickert over State Street development

Update: State Rep. Bob Turner is taking issue with our initial story about the proposed State Street development. Turner said Tuesday morning he strongly supports honoring Corinne Owens but he also strong supports Brent Oglesby's project on State Street.

"I'm in full support of the Owens project," Turner said.

Oglesby wants to build a $6.6 million mixed-use development with market-rate (ie. not subsidized) condos and commercial space at State and Silver streets.

Turner took issue with the suggestion that he supported honoring Owens, but didn't necessarily support Oglesby's project. He said he hasn't met with the mayor and disagreed with Dickert's stance to hold off on development around the potential site of the KRM train station.

Alfonso Gardner, a long-time community activist who fights for jobs, said Oglesby's project is a critical development for Racine's inner city. He was dismayed to hear Mayor Dickert's stance on the project.

"Why is the city and the mayor stopping development in an area that needs work?" Gardner said.

He added: "The mayor is going to wait six years for us to have development in the inner city."

Oglesby is appearing before the Redevelopment Authority on Wednesday in hopes of securing an option to buy land for the mixed-use project. It's unlikely the RDA will grant Oglesbly the option.

Original post ...

There is no State Street project yet, despite wrangling by two potential developers over a two-acre parcel adjacent to the Racine Transit Center, but Mayor John Dickert and State Rep. Bob Turner announced today that -- when there is, whatever it is -- it will memorialize Corinne Owens.

But the when, according to Dickert, now hinges on commuter rail.

“Corinne Owens is a part of Racine’s history and she will be honored for her efforts,” Mayor Dickert said. “While there are no current plans for developing the site by the city, any future project will include a tribute to Ms. Owens.”

“Corinne Owens has been a leader and a mentor for African Americans throughout the greater Racine community for decades,” said Turner. “She is a champion for civil rights and a symbol of strength and perseverance.”

In recent months, two developers -- first, Damon Dorsey of Milwaukee and then Brent Oglesby of Racine -- requested access to the site to build Corinne Owens Square. Dorsey offered a mixed-use project with 25 apartments, 14 townhouses and 3,000 sq. ft. of commercial space. Oglesby tried unsuccessfully to take over Dorsey's option in September -- he lost a 5-2 vote by the Redevelopment Authority. A final decision on whether to grant him an option on the site was expected this month.

But the mayor's office said today the city has decided to hold on to all city-owned land around the train station until a decision has been made on commuter rail.

“I have known Corinne Owens for many years and have always been impressed by her unwavering commitment to justice. Her fight for civil rights and equality has left an indelible mark on Racine’s history,” said Dickert. “She is most deserving of a lasting memorial in our city for all of her outstanding contributions on behalf of civil rights since she became a citizen of Racine in the early 1950’s.”

Owens, honored by Racine County Democrats in March with the Phyllis Dresen Spirit of Democracy Award, rose from a janitor's position, when she was refused a teaching job because of her race, to become chair of the Gateway Technical College Board, president of the NAACP, and a leader in the effort to pass the Fair Housing Act

$4 million HUD grant fights childhood lead poisoning

A $4 million grant to the Kenosha County Department of Health is targeted at fighting childhood lead poisoning in Kenosha and Racine, according to Sen. Herb Kohl, D-WI.

In a release announcing the grant from HUD, Kohl says: "The Center for Disease Control says lead poisoning is the number one environmental health problem affecting young children in the U.S. The risk for lead exposure is particularly high in urban areas, such as Racine and Kenosha, the oldest cities in their respective counties, where many children live in homes built more than 30 years ago. The grant will allow agencies to target at least 360 children under the age of six who live in at-risk housing primarily in low-income areas. In addition to lead abatement, the agencies will focus on education of lead hazards and safety, as well as increase coordination of resources from local government, non-profit and faith-based organizations, and landlords."

“I am pleased to support the Kenosha County Department of Human Services Lead-Hazard Reduction Demonstration Program. This funding will allow the program to work with the cities of Racine and Kenosha to protect our children and fight childhood lead poisoning,” Kohl said.

October 4, 2009

Compassion Fest offers contemplative way to peace

Compassion Fest's "Sit for Peace"

Compassion Fest isn't your Racine community festival.

For starters, the centerpiece of this year's Compassion Fest, organized Sunday by the Original Root Zen Center in Racine, was a sacred space roped off for sitting meditation. Master Teachers Linda and Tony Somlai, who founded ORZC in 1990, the Zen Center's abbot, Mathew Somlai, and other members of the spiritual community led the contemplative practice.

A prayer flag from Compassion Fest.

Prayer flags with simple intentions like, "You are peace," designed by festival-goers, were tied to the ropes around the sitting area. Over four hours, children and adult took turns sitting quietly as a simple, but profound, act of peace. A peaceful garden teaming with birds, flowers and grasses joined the contemplatives on the brisk fall day that showed signed of winter and summer depending on fall's wind and intermittent sunshine.

Painting the 60-foot "Wall of Peace."

Creative and sharing activities surrounded Compassion Fest's "Sit for Peace." A "Wall of Peace" was laid out on an old brick path laid through the center of the DeKoven Center grounds. Festival-goers added marks and words to the 60-foot long banner, which is now on display along Wisconsin Avenue hanging on DeKoven's fence.

"Critters" also took part in Compassion Fest.

Further back was a "critter mandala," which was similar to the "Wall of Peace," except people used bird seed instead of paints to leave their marks. People used the different colored seeds - black sunflower seeds, cracked corn, peanuts, etc. - to decorate a roped off circle in the grass. At the end of the festival, the ropes were removed and the squirrels and birds helped scatter the mandala's energy throughout the grounds.

Nearby, kids activities kept young (and old) ones busy throughout the afternoon. A scavenger hunt, masks and decorating pumpkins were all available.

At another table, ORZC poets wrote "impromptu poetry" for a dollar a poem. They offered a menu of styles - haiku, rhyming, song lyrics, etc. - and topics - seasons, animals, love, death, etc. - for people to choose from. Another buck got you a decoration along with the poem.

Members of the Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church's "Social Concerns" committee participated in Compassion Fest with an information table and a bake sale of their own.

The entire festival was fueled by a stellar bake sale and "Karmic Cake Walk," which gave participants a chance to take home an entire cake, coffee cake, pie or loaf of bread. There were also four specially roasted Compassion Fest coffee blends for people to sample and purchase.

The "Sit for Peace"

Spiritually, the Master Teachers offered a "mantra" - a phrase repeated internally as a contemplative practice - for Compassion Fest. The mantra was: "Give, Happy, Peace." They explained the mantra is simple as it sounds: If you give, people are happy and there is peace.

Compassion Fest itself was a good example. As people shared openly through creative and contemplative practices, happiness and peace broke out from babies to adults.

Maybe it wasn't such a different festival. Like any group inviting people in, Compassion Fest was a chance for participants to spend a few hours living a compassionate, full life. At the end you wonder if every day could really be about creativity, sharing and happiness. It's worth a shot ... but where to begin. The first word of the Compassion Fest mantra was "give."

How about there?

Slideshow from Compassion Fest 2009

Alderman McCarthy backs 12-month development option for proposed grocery store, gas station in West Racine

Alderman Terry McCarthy, one of three alderman whose districts include parts of West Racine, is giving tentative support to a plan to build a gas station, restaurant, bank and gas station at Washington Avenue and West Boulevard.

Here's the letter McCarthy wrote to City Development Director Brian O'Connell announcing his support of giving Tom Tousis a 12-month option on the vacant 1.5 acres of land owned by the city:
Members of the Redevelopment Authority:

As one of three Aldermen for West Racine and the Alderman for the 3100 block of Washington Avenue, I have great interest in its redevelopment. I have had much input about this site directly from my constituents. I have also learned a great deal about Mr. Tousis’ proposal by meeting with him and by visiting his Douglas Avenue location.

The proposal has elements that are almost universally desired throughout West Racine (restaurant, grocery). It also has elements that are controversial (gas station, rights to gambling machines if approved for a liquor license). This has led to much debate.

The right development on this corner could be very unifying for the West Racine community and beneficial for the neighboring businesses. I do not support all elements of the current proposal, but I believe that it has potential. Mr. Tousis has shown and continues to show flexibility based on the input of the community.

Granting Mr. Tousis his requested 12-month option on this property will allow continued community discussions and refinement of the proposal as part of the process. It does not mean that the current proposal (or for that matter, Mr. Tousis as the ultimate developer) is approved; rather it means that the first step has been taken. There are no other developers knocking on our doors at this time, nor would I anticipate any soon. Let’s work with Mr. Tousis during the time he has requested to try to make this the right development for West Racine. I support granting the option on this property.

Terry McCarthy
9th District Alderman
Racine, WI

McCarthy's letter, sent Sunday, came four days before the Redevelopment Authority is scheduled meet on Tousis' $5 million, 25,000-square-foot proposal. City staff is recommending the RDA, chaired by First Weber's John Crimmings, "receive and file" Tousis' application for the site. That, basically, means the city kill the proposal without further discussion.

McCarthy stands in opposition to that recommendation.

Showdown on West Racine grocery store, gas station set for Wednesday's RDA meeting

UPDATE 2: The ongoing saga about a 1.5-acre plot of land in West Racine continued this week with some odd behind the scenes moves before Wednesday's Redevelopment Authority meeting.

Based on the agenda for the meeting, we reported Sunday that city staff was recommending the authority "receive and file" Tom Tousis's $5 million proposal, which is typically government speak for throwing it in the garbage.

But then we received an email from City Development Director Brian O'Connell that said, in part:
City staff has not yet taken any position on the Tousis proposal. City Staff has requested information from Mr. Tousis; we will not be making a recommendation on his proposal until we have received and reviewed that information and the information that Mr. Tousis may present at the public hearing on Wednesday.

The Racine Post chose to interpret the “receive and file” recommendation on the agenda for the Redevelopment Authority meeting as a recommendation for denial.
Interestingly, the JT quoted O'Connell on Monday saying Tousis had not submitted needed paperwork for the RDA to consider his request for a 12-month option on the land.

Zak Williams, a spokesman for Tousis, contested this claim Monday. He said the city requested additional information and said Tousis could bring it to Wednesday's meeting.

The JT later dropped O'Connell's quotes from its story about Wednesday's RDA meeting without explanation.

So where do things stand?

Apparently, Tousis has the needed paperwork into the city, and the RDA (the legal owner of the property) may vote up or down on giving him a 12-month option on the land. But even that's unclear because the agenda lists a public hearing, but not a straight-up agenda item, on the project.

O'Connell told the JT the RDA may make a recommendation Wednesday, but he doesn't anticipate them doing so.

We're hearing odds are increasingly likely there will be a vote on Wednesday, but it's unclear if the RDA will grant the option and it could come down to a 4-3 vote either way.

Pete Karas and Scott Terry are reportedly solidly behind Tousis, and State Rep. Cory Mason is likely to support the project because Tousis agreed to use union labor to build the grocery store, gas station, restaurant and bank. Alderman Jim Spangenberg firmly opposes the project, which leaves RDA Chairman John Crimmings, David Lange and Robert Ledvina as the deciding votes.

UPDATE: City Development Director Brian O'Connell called Monday to say the city staff is not recommending that Tom Touisis' West Racine proposal be denied. He said, rather, that Wednesday 's meeting focusing on it by the Redevelopment Authority is a public hearing on the project and there is no staff recommendation. That's contrary to the RDA agenda posted on the city's website, but make up your own mind.

Original post:

City staff is recommending the city's Redevelopment Authority "receive and file" a proposal to build a grocery store, restaurant, bank and gas station in West Racine.

The recommendation, listed on the agenda for Wednesday's meeting, amounts to dumping the proposal without taking further action. You can see the agenda here.

Tom Tousis wants to build the roughly 25,000-square-foot, $5 million development on the southwest corner of Washington Avenue and West Boulevard. The plan received strong support during a neighborhood meeting on Sept. 30, but there's high-level opposition to the proposal.

Alderman Jim Spangenberg, who sits on the RDA and lives in West Racine, is fighting the project, and a West Racine work group is asking the RDA to adopt restrictions on the vacant lot that would discourage, if not ban, a gas station on the site. Opponents of the Tousis project argue it would be better to wait for the right development than force something that isn't a good fit.

Tousis is fighting back with an organized effort to build support for the development. He's committed to using local union labor to build the project and to preserve the farmer's market on the site.

Wednesday's RDA meeting is an important step for Tousis. He needs the RDA's support to move ahead, because the authority technically owns the 1.5 acres of land he wants to build on. Without the RDA's backing, he won't be able to proceed.