Delafield development plan triggers debate
Four-story buildings proposed downtown

By Kelly Smith - Special to Conley Media

April 4, 2019

 An artist’s concept of the two four-story commercial buildings proposed by Hendricks Commercial Properties at the corner of Main and Genesee streets in Delafield.

DELAFIELD — A Beloit development company’s plan to build two four-story commercial buildings at the intersection of Genesee and Main streets is likely to trigger another debate over the direction of economic development in the city. Hendricks Commercial Properties is actively promoting its proposal on the company’s website and among Delafield business owners even though the plan, according to Mayor Kent Attwell, is similar to proposals that failed to receive city approval last year.

 Attwell says that the new plan — like the previous proposals — does not meet city codes and is not architecturally compatible with the historic, colonial theme developed in the downtown business district by entrepreneur Bob Lang in the 1990s.

One of Lang’s former closest business associates, Rob Gerbitz, is now president and chief executive officer of Hendricks Commercial Properties.

Nearly all the Lang buildings are now owned by Hendricks Commercial Properties, the city’s biggest landlord.

The company is part of the Hendricks Group, which is owned by Diane Hendricks, a billionaire businesswoman who owns ABC Supply, one of the largest suppliers of roofing, windows and siding in the country.

According to the company’s website, the proposed $25 million development at 705 Genesee Street will employ nearly 300 people during construction and when completed will generate more than $300,000 in additional real estate tax revenue for the city.

The plans call for two buildings, one facing Genesee Street and one facing Main Street.

There would be 24 residential units along with 48,000 square feet of retail and office space.

In addition to the website, the plans are being promoted in at least one downtown business.

Attwell told Conley Media he was “surprised and disappointed” when Gerbitz presented the proposal to the city’s planning staff.

Attwell said the new plan is similar to two other proposals that were presented to the Plan Commission last year by Gerbitz.

Those plans were sharply criticized by the commission because of the buildings’ height and urban, industrial style architecture.

The city code restricts downtown buildings to three stories.

Later, Gerbitz in private meetings with the mayor presented two more alternatives which, according to Attwell, fit the code and might have been accepted by the commission.

Attwell told Conley Media he does not understand why the developer’s most recent proposal includes the larger, more industrial appearing buildings.

Citizen input

Gerbitz told Conley Media he decided to present the latest proposal after a citizens group, Delafield Citizens for Responsible Growth, encouraged him to submit the plans.

“One of our main goals is to inform fellow citizens regarding economic initiatives that are being proposed and we are looking to support,” according to a Facebook page promoting the group.

Delafield business executive John Ravaris was apparently instrumental in organizing the group, according to Gerbitz and Common Council President Tim Aicher.

Aicher said he met with Ravaris who expressed concern that the city has an anti-development attitude regardless of the quality of developments being proposed.

Ravaris has not responded to telephone messages and emails from Conley Media.

Aicher said he believes the developers have made changes in the design of the buildings “so they look more like an old hotel than a factory building.”

But he acknowledged the city may be in for another fight over economic development policy.

During the late 1990s, the Common Council, after months of bitter debates and demonstrations, opted not to build a municipal water system.

There have also been battles over proposed developments near the interchanges of Interstate 94 and Highway C and Highways 83 and 16.

Aicher predicted some city officials will be upset over how aggressively the developers have been promoting the proposal.

“But I like it when they are in our face. It gets people stirred up and interested, which gives the council a lot of good feedback,” Aicher said.

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