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Angst Over Meijer Persists

Residents attending a public meeting Monday on the Drexel Town Square project continued to express skepticism on a proposal for Meijer to anchor the development.

Though numerous components make up the Drexel Town Square development project, it's the Meijer store that continues to be the central focus for Oak Creek residents.

More than 200 residents turned out at a public meeting Monday night and got a closer look at the plans and an opportunity to ask questions of the people leading the project.

Over about 90 minutes, a few general opinions about the development seemed apparent.

Many people looked favorably on plans for the new downtown, where first-floor shops and second-floor apartments lead to a town square.

So, too, did residents generally seem fine with the 500 to 600 apartments planned on the west end of the site.

But on the east end of the site, where a Meijer store is proposed, it was a different story.

"There's no special aspect of it, to me, that is going to draw people from outside Oak Creek to it," said Garett Kucifer, an Oak Creek resident and business owner in the Market Place Village.

"And that's what I find disappointing. We need something more unique."

It's clear Oak Creek residents aren't completely sold on the project, even though many can see its benefits should it turn out successful.

On Monday, they got the most in-depth look at Drexel Town Square to date, including an animation that displayed a 3-dimensional view of what the site might look like.

It showed a vibrant town center packed with amenities Oak Creek has never before seen. The town square, for instance, will host a variety of community activities, such as a farmers market or ice skating. New restaurants, too, are a big part of the project.

"It's a good thing for the community," resident Nicole Zielski said. "I just want to make sure it has all the right things that's going to do well with the community."

Oak Creek aldermen, who must approve the plans, have heard the concerns about a big box store throughout the last few weeks and again on Monday.

Some of them, too, are lukewarm about Meijer. But as one city official put it, it's a package deal. The city can't have the town center without Meijer.

And even if aldermen did reject Meijer, they would face a reality of building a new city hall and library with no development around it. It could be years before another anchor store would come along, and even council members who aren't convinced about Meijer say they won't allow that to happen.

"As both an Oak Creek taxpayer and alderman, what I don't want to see is the property go undeveloped for a number of years as we wait for the perfect anchor to come forward," Alderman Jim Ruetz said.

Those leading the Drexel Town Square project say the Meijer component is just that—one component. Rick Barrett and Blair Williams, who are developing the residential and downtown portions of the project, respectively, look at Meijer as an advantage.

They said in an interview last week that Meijer will be a catalyst, a business that will help facilitate the project by assuring potential retailers and restaurateurs that people will come to the site.

"From my perspective, having an obligation to lease a fair amount of retail space, it's very important there be traffic generation like what Meijer can provide," Williams said.

But to this point, Meijer's inclusion has prevented Drexel Town Square from garnering widespread community support. The buzz from residents that Meijer isn't high-end enough and would add to a large number of big boxes already on Howell Avenue hasn't gone away.

"Meijer is just, to me," Kucifer said, "another Walmart, another Target."

Young Oak Creek February 17, 2013 at 01:25 PM
I wish it were Trader Joe's, Outpost, or Whole Foods if the anchor had to be in that realm. Meijer will make it feel like just another strip mall and certainly not bring in an upscale clientele if that is the goal. As a younger family with kids in a middle/upper middle class bracket, we'd love to be able to spend more time and money in our own community rather than having to go downtown/west for dining, shopping, and family fun.
Young Oak Creek February 17, 2013 at 01:28 PM
As far as restaurants, look at Joey Gerard's in Greendale. You have a proven name in the Bartolotta group and decent range of price points because they don't have as high of rent to cover like all downtown/west suburb restaurants face, and it is packed even on weeknights.
Jodi February 19, 2013 at 05:21 PM
What's also sad about this project is the number of empty spaces and, in some cases, totally empty shopping centers in this city. I wish we could try to attract some viable businesses to fill the empty shopping centers at the corner of Howell and Rawson, Howell and Ryan (Wheaton building and also the Maritime Savings building), across from the Post Office (containing Children of America only), old Fashion Bug, old Famous Footwear, etc. Some of these are eyesores. This should be an embarrassment to the city that we cannot attract and retain retail to stay. Let's focus on this and then think about the new development plans.
Lisa March 09, 2013 at 03:06 PM
Hey folks, why don't we take this discussion directly to our aldermen...there are two "listening sessions" coming up: Aldermen Tom Michalski is hosting one today at City Hall from 10am to noon, and Alderman Dan Jakubczyk, who is up for re-election next month, is hosting one next Saturday (3/16) from 9am to noon.
Ed Senger May 11, 2013 at 11:35 PM
Take a look at Brady Street, Farwell, or the Third Ward. All very successful areas with multiple small local businesses. From unique clothing stores, sporting goods stores, bicycle shops and multiple cafes these areas are very vibrant without a big box anchor. Woodman's abuts the site- why not consider that the anchor and the draw if needed? The propensity of all the large format retailers on Howell will most likely mean the failure of one. If we are insistent on another food store let's do something different - Trader Joes would offer a uniquely different type of food store as would Sendiks, Brennans or Metcalfe's Sentry.

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