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  • Milwaukee Business Journal

Plan for 'history-making' innovation district at former Chrysler site approved in Kenosha

After a more than yearlong public planning process involving hundreds of residents, business owners, institutions and community leaders, the Kenosha Common Council adopted a master plan Monday for an innovation neighborhood on the city's 107-acre former Chrysler plant.

The measure passed unanimously, with Kenosha Ald. Dominic Ruffalo calling it a “history-making event in the city of Kenosha.”

"It’s going to change the future of Kenosha," Ruffalo said in comments before the vote. "Not so much for ourselves or our children — probably our grandchildren. ...This is a big part of where Kenosha is going."

The plan calls for a mixed-use neighborhood that would include space for technology incubators and offices, education and research institutions, up to 1,300 housing units, commercial space, medical offices, and parks and natural areas, according to the plan.

"One of the ideas of innovation districts is to have a lot of opportunities for people to come together," Kenosha director of city development Tim Casey said. "Everybody from corporate CEOs to serial entrepreneurs, to startups to students and everybody in between."

The project will likely take at least 15 to 20 years to fully build out and could cost between $500 million and $1 billion, Casey said. Financing sources include state and federal grants, as well as a local tax incremental district already in place that would provide more than $30 million in capital for infrastructure work, Casey said.

The first two buildings in the district are slated to be an innovation center and a new building for LakeView Technology Academy, a Choice school in the Kenosha Unified School District that specializes in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, Casey said. The city has received $15 million in state grants to go toward those two projects.

Construction on the phase-one infrastructure is expected to begin this year and could be completed by the end of 2023, Casey said. Work on the innovation center and LakeView Technology Academy could start next spring.

Beyond that, the next steps in the process are to create a zoning district and design guidelines, Casey said. Engineering and design firm SmithGroup led the master planning process and is contracted for the phase-one infrastructure work.

The city of Kenosha owns the land where the former Chrysler plant once employed as many as 10,000 workers. The site demolition and cleanup are largely completed, Casey said. Located between 52nd and 60th streets, the site is less than two miles west of downtown Kenosha and Lake Michigan.

The site is adjacent to five neighborhoods that were greatly affected by the plant's closure, according to the master plan. With that in mind, the city aimed to engage local residents and other stakeholders throughout the innovation district planning process.

"'Don't just give us a spaceship and drop it in our neighborhood,'" was a common sentiment expressed throughout the public input process, Casey said. "'How is this going to integrate with the neighborhood?' That's something that we're really spending a lot of time thinking about and we're going to be engaging with the community as we go forward."


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