Wispark seeks to develop 80 acres along Oak Creek lakefront

Published on: 3/2/2011

Development firm Wispark LLC is negotiating to buy 80 acres along Oak Creek’s lakefront, a property that would play a major role in that community’s effort to redevelop former industrial properties near Bender Park.

The property, at 9006 S. 5th Ave., was once home to the Peter Cooper Co. glue factory, and was later used by Oak Creek Storage and Handling Inc. It is owned by the estate of business operator James Jalovec, who died last year in a helicopter crash while delivering aid to victims of the Haiti earthquake.

The site has undergone a major amount of environmental cleanup to prepare it for development, said Jerry Franke, Wispark president. He declined to say what types of development might occur on the property, saying he wants to first hear from members of the public.

The City of Oak Creek is sponsoring a public input session Thursday to help create its lakefront redevelopment plan. The event, at the Oak Creek Community Center, 8580 S. Howell Ave., includes an open house from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. At 7 p.m., there will be a short presentation.

There are challenges to developing the Peter Cooper site, Franke said Wednesday.

“It’s remote. Too many people don’t know about it,” he said.

City officials have been working for years to redevelop the larger lakefront area, dubbed Lakeview Village.

Last year, the Common Council approved a tax incremental financing district that covers 335 acres, most of it undeveloped or underdeveloped, overlooking Lake Michigan near Bender Park, which is at the end of E. Ryan Road.

The district would allow the city to borrow money and spend it on roads, cleanup work and other public improvements tied to individual projects. That debt would be paid off through property taxes generated by private investments in the lakefront area. Once the debt is paid off, those property taxes would then go to the city, its school district and other local governments.

Large, former industrial tracts in the area include 56 acres, owned by Du Pont, and 57 acres, owned by EPIC/El Paso Energy. Both are north of Bender Park.

City planners have envisioned a mix of uses in the area, including housing and retail, along with public green space that provides access to Lake Michigan. The area would likely take 10 to 20 years to develop, according to a 2009 study conducted by the Urban Land Institute.

Wispark’s investment in the former Peter Cooper site is part of  the firm’s larger plan for Oak Creek.

The Common Council Tuesday night approved an agreement with Wispark for the company to invest $20 million in city development efforts by 2016.

Wispark is a subsidiary of Wisconsin Energy Corp., which agreed to make that investment as past of the city’s approval of the expansion of the company’s Oak Creek power plants. The money spent by Wispark will come from Wisconsin Energy shareholders, and not the utility’s ratepayers, Franke said.

Wispark also will be involved in redeveloping 82 acres that formerly housed portions of the Delphi Corp. automotive parts plant, at S. Howell and W. Drexel avenues.

The city recently hired a consultant to study the possibility of moving City Hall and the Oak Creek Library to the Delphi site. That would use roughly five to 10 acres, Franke said, leaving the rest of the vacant land for a mix of housing, offices and retail uses.

The third project involves Wispark’s plan, announced in 2009, to create a business park on around 200 acres at S. Howell Ave. and W. Oakwood Road.

Specific development plans to be eventually proposed at all three sites will require additional Common Council approvals, Franke said. The general plan approved Tuesday night “just gets everyone on the same page,” he said.