New economic activity dotting South Shore landscape
Oak Creek’s Drexel Town Square, Patrick Cudahy plant expansion among projects

By DAVE FIDLIN - Special to the Post

Oct. 23, 2015

The Drexel Town Square project in Oak Creek.
Submitted rendering 

MILWAUKEE - A mixture of new, ground-up projects and older expansion efforts are changing the economic picture of the four communities dotting the South Shore region of Milwaukee County.

Oak Creek’s mixed-use Drexel Town Square is, perhaps, the most notable of the group. While there have been a few hiccups in the process, the 85-acre development at the intersection of Howell and Drexel avenues is beginning to take shape.

A smattering of retailers, including Water Street Brewery, have begun operations at the site, which is replacing the long-dormant Delphi plant. The city

of Oak Creek this week moved its municipal building and library to the property.

The clock tower of Oak Creek City Hall is on the right in this photo taken earlier this year. Jerry Franke, president of Wispark, said the Drexel Town Square project was delayed partly by the polar vortex. 
Sumitted photo

Jerry Franke is president of Wispark, the real estate development arm of Wisconsin Energy Corp. Franke concedes construction of Drexel Town Square is about 14 months behind schedule, due in large part to the severe conditions from the polar vortex from nearly two years ago.

“But there is a lot of activity taking place at the site now,” Franke said. “When you look at (Drexel Town Square) now and what it will look like in a year, it will be drastically different.”

In addition to housing a variety of retail operations and a municipal town center, Drexel Town Square will have a housing component and include a variety of apartments and condominiums.

“The city of Oak Creek, which has been an outstanding partner on this, is going to be known as one of the first communities in this country, developed in the 1950s, that will finally have a downtown area,” Franke said.

Oak Creek’s neighbors to the north, of course, have far richer histories. Officials in South Milwaukee, Cudahy and St. Francis are taking a variety of steps to breathe new life into heritage sites.

The four municipalities highlighted some of the economic developments last week at a forum, held at the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center. County Supervisor Pat Jursik, who represents most of the region, hosted the event.

As the community’s name implies, Cudahy’s Patrick Cudahy meatpacking plant has long been the backbone of the city’s local economy. Smithfield Foods, based in Virginia, operates the Patrick Cudahy plant, and is in the midst of a 12,500-square-foot addition.

Cudahy Mayor John Hohenfeldt said the addition will allow for increased production and efficiencies in many of the plant’s operations, including a sausage smokehouse for the company’s salami and pepperoni products.

South Milwaukee is in the midst of an extensive revamp of its historic downtown commercial corridor, which in previous years sat empty. While South Milwaukee houses big-box retailer Walmart, Mayor Erik Brooks said he proudly trumpets the fact the retailers in the downtown region are the anti-Walmart.

“To me, economic development really is all about strategy,” Brooks said. “It’s really about making everything desirable and attractive.”

A mixture of chains and locally run shops are dotting the downtown corridor, Brooks said, and include a soccer pub, a candy shop and a locally operated coffee shop and hair salon. All of the shops recently laid roots along the corridor.

Brooks said the goal is to make South Milwaukee’s downtown a destination spot. The expanding farmers market is one of several examples Brooks pointed to as draws to the heart of the city.

In St. Francis, Mayor CoryAnn St. Marie-Carls said the FBI headquarters, taking the place of the former lakefront Stark Investments site, is underway with completion eyed for next May.

The FBI’s entry into St. Francis is tied to a series of decisions made by the city’s Common Council.

Officials have approved creating a 470-acre tax-incremental financing district that includes a potential $9.9 million pay-as-you-go incentive for Bear Development, the firm overseeing the project.

In addition to the FBI offices, the TIF district includes a three-phase, three-building apartment development along South Lake Drive. That project carries a valuation of $45 million.