Land rush: Kenosha County ripe for development
The Business Journal
by Sean Ryan on 11-08-2013
Even before crews bulldozed earth this month for Amazon.com’s huge distribution center in Kenosha, developers from Chicago and beyond began locking in land along Interstate 94 for the next wave of growth.
Within walking distance of the site where Seattle-based Amazon will operate a 1 million-square-foot distribution center, developers are preparing 550 acres for three new industrial projects. Others also are in the works near I-94. The land rush reflects developers’ expectation that Amazon’s project is only the beginning.
“Over the past six to eight months, every developer in Chicago is canvassing Kenosha County,” said Tom Boyle, principal with Newmark Grubb Knight Frank in Chicago.
The final pieces of the Amazon deal came together Oct. 31. Developer KTR Capital Partners in Pennsylvania bought the land for the project for $17.5 million. Kenosha officials finalized a $17 million financing package with KTR on Oct. 31 and crews began churning dirt on the site Nov. 1, said Kenosha Mayor Keith Bosman.
Amazon.com follows another Kenosha win when Kenall Manufacturing committed to move its headquarters and 400 jobs to Kenosha from Gurnee, Ill. Other projects include new distribution centers for Meijer Inc. and Ta Chen International Inc. in Pleasant Prairie.
Boyle, who helped broker the Kenall deal, said Kenosha County is drawing attention from distribution companies located outside the region. He estimated that one in every four prospects hunting through the market is from outside the immediate area.
Developers who are chasing those prospects are scrambling to secure large blocks of farmland and local approval for future industrial developments. Boyle said he is negotiating with potential buyers for two large vacant properties located across 38th Street from the Amazon site.
“I’ve been approached by several developers with varying levels of interest because obviously, with Amazon to the north, this site becomes Main and Main,” Boyle said.
One of Boyle’s properties is south of 38th Street between the existing Gordon Food Service distribution center and the Kenosha Regional Airport. A developer within the last two months submitted a rough sketch of plans for an industrial park on that land, said Brian Wilke, Kenosha’s development coordinator.
Hopping over the interstate to the west, Chicago-based Bridge Development Partners LLC has an option to buy about 100 acres for a large distribution center development, said Whit Heitman, executive director of Cushman & Wakefield in Rosemont, Ill. That site is west of I-94 and surrounds the Mars Cheese Castle retail facility. Discussions are underway to have Kenosha potentially annex the land from the town of Paris so utilities can be extended to the site, he said.
“We’re out marketing it,” Heitman said. “We’ve fielded a couple of proposals for big boxes on that site.”
Heitman is listing almost 340 acres for sale on either side of 38th Street west of the interstate, including the land optioned to Bridge Development.
Also in the works is a 309-acre business park that Majestic Realty Co. plans on 38th Street east of the Amazon site. Majestic Realty, City of Industry, Calif., has the land under option and is working through the necessary approvals with the town of Somers, said Taylor Talt, Majestic ownership representative.
Majestic in October 2012 bought 88 acres to the south in Pleasant Prairie where it is marketing the land to companies that need a large distribution center.
Majestic entered the Kenosha County market before Amazon was a prospect, Talt said. It emerged from other options in the Midwest partially due to the successful and aggressive marketing effort by state and local governments to attract jobs, he said.
“We found that specifically southeast Wisconsin was being pretty proactive and we saw a handful of (companies) go there,” Talt said. “We looked at various markets, including Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, and we ended up acquiring the Pleasant Prairie piece first.”
Developers don’t see Kenosha County as part of the southeast Wisconsin region. They view it as part of the Midwestern market surrounding Chicago.
That is to Kenosha County’s benefit, because it has more and cheaper land than Lake County, Ill., to the south.
Office and manufacturing companies looking north of the border may be greeted first by Illinois-based Venture One Real Estate, which is securing approvals for a 250-acre business park in Pleasant Prairie just north of the state line.
The developer will begin advertising the property, dubbed Riverview Corporate Park, to companies in early 2014, said Mark Goode, Venture One principal. The name plays off Lakeview Corporate Park, which decades ago set the standard for business park development in Kenosha County.
“Venture One has more than 1,000 acres of industrial land throughout the Chicago region and I consider this part of the overall Chicago market,” Goode said.
“Companies that are expanding in the Chicago market are looking where there is a good employment base and transportation and, if you are looking in Lake County, there’s just not many sites left.”
Bosman, like developers in the private sector, said the hundreds of acres of prospective industrial development in Kenosha County will move forward as more companies commit to sites.
“It’s a matter of time as long as the economy doesn’t tank like it did in 2008,” Bosman said. “If the economy maintains a steadiness like it has for the year, I think it’s a matter of time before these properties fill up.”
Sean Ryan reports on real estate, construction and public transit in southeast Wisconsin
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