The city has unveiled plans for a massive redevelopment district stretching north from the old Kmart building and then east along Oshkosh Avenue to the Fox River.
The city said it expects to spend $12.25 million in the 65.6 acre district, spurring close to $30 million in development projects, including a $14 million hotel, a convenience store, an office building or two, a restaurant and a bank branch.
But not all of the financial rewards will be going to real estate developers. The city wants to set up a revolving loan fund and a grant program to help individual property owners improve “the appearance, value and functionality of … housing stock in the corridor that is a gateway into the community.”
The city has identified 85 individual parcels that would fall into the development district. Many of them have older structures that do not conform with the building code but were grandfathered in when new regulations were adopted.
The district is just south of but distinct from the development area that the city is establishing to help Oshkosh Corp. build its new global headquarters on the site of the old Lakeshore Municipal Golf Course. The Oshkosh Avenue district is almost twice the size of the headquarters site.
Both development districts received their initial review and approval from the Plan Commission Tuesday. But at least one major property owner in the larger district is not pleased with the city and the restrictions it wants to impose.
The new owner of the Kmart site is U-Haul, and one of the key elements of its business–both for branding and for safety reasons–is a distinctive shade of orange. Under the company’s preliminary plan, that color would fill the old Kmart space, with signs, storage pods, parked vehicles and the building facade all garbed in orange.
Members of the Plan Commission reacted in horror to the idea of the highly visible property being turned into a sea of orange. “It’s all advertising and billboards,” said David Borsuk of the architectural renderings for the site, which is near the interchange of Interstate 41 and Highway 21.
“I agree with David. It’s one big billboard,” said Mayor Steve Cummings, who sits on the commission. The color is “garish,” added Kathy Propp. “I really don’t like that.”
Before the meeting a company official, Justin Kaminski, said he was unhappy with the city’s reaction to the redevelopment proposal. He said that if an agreement couldn’t be reached, the company would “paint the building pink.”
One potential solution that was discussed at the commission meeting was to substitute neutral colors for some of the proposed orange areas and screen off some parts of the project with fencing or plantings.
The Kmart property presents an intriguing view into the future of real estate as more and more consumers shift to online shopping and abandon the once-popular large store format. According to Kaminski, the Oshkosh location would be the 72nd time that the company has converted an empty Kmart into a storage facility.
At the other end of the development district, the city is considering pushing Sawyer Street through to create a more direct entrance to Rainbow Park. The proposal also includes the possibility of a neighborhood trail system that would connect to the Wiouwash Trail.
The development district is scheduled to come to the Common Council Jan. 23.
Photo: U Haul plans to convert the old Kmart building on North Koeller Street into a storage and equipment rental facility.