Developers Bullish on Drexel Town Square Plans

The developers and architect involved with the Drexel Town Square project say they are excited to create a new identity for the city.

The idea of creating a downtown and a town center from scratch, while not unprecedented, certainly isn't common, either.

But the developers and architect involved with the Drexel Town Square redevelopment project, planned for the corner of Drexel and Howell avenues in Oak Creek, say its the uniqueness drew them in.

Rick Barrett, Blair Williams and Matt Rinka are bringing their high profiles in the Milwaukee development community—and more importantly, their successful track records—to Oak Creek to help develop an entirely new identity for the city.

Barrett will develop the residential component on the west end of the site, which will include about 500 to 600 high-end apartments. Williams is focused on the downtown portion of the project, where first-floor shops and second-floor apartments will lead to a town square. Rinka is involved with the design of the site and connecting all of the components together.

In an interview this week with Oak Creek Patch, the trio talked about why they got involved, what they envision for Drexel Town Square and what will set it apart from other suburban redevelopment projects.

Collaboration seen as key

Barrett and Williams know exactly how multiple developers can join together for a successful project. They were involved in creating the Beerline neighborhood near downtown Milwaukee, in which a new neighborhood was essentially built from the ground up—just like in the Drexel Town Square plans.

Beerline happened because all of the developers succeeded, Barrett said. But Williams also said developers mostly worked in "silos" and not together. They didn't communicate with each other about what they were doing, he said.

That's what makes the Oak Creek project "refreshing," Barrett said. All of the developers are working together and pulling for each other because, well, they don't have a choice.

"The more successful (Williams) is, the more successful we are," Barrett said. "The more successful Meijer is, the more successful we are. That, to me, is the really exciting part."

Added Williams: "When we sat down at the table for the first time, we were all going to do this together. There was going to be independent efforts to make sure that we each did our own bit as best we could, but there was going to be collaboration and effort jointly to get this thing as strong and successful as it can be."

Barrett said he has seen similar redevelopment attempts in other suburban communities in the country go awry. But he believes the "world-class team" working on Drexel Town Square will create a project held up as an example of how to do it right.

"With great design and really smart people involved," he said, "this project will be, in my mind, something that sets the new standard for suburban development and how it can be done properly."

Barrett recently completed the 30-story Moderne in downtown Milwaukee and is planning the 44-story Coutre on the lakefront. He will present multiple options for housing on Drexel Town Square after a close study of the demand in the Oak Creek area. Rents are anticipated to be on the higher end, with young professionals and employees of nearby corporate headquarters like Caterpillar and PPG calling the apartments home.

Those residents will be just a few steps away from Oak Creek's first true downtown.

Oak Creek's Main Street

Williams, of WiRED Properties, helped develop Shorewood's Main Street. He was attracted to this project in large part because of the civic component on the south side of the town square.

The Oak Creek Common Council's decision a year ago to relocate the library and city hall to Drexel Town Square was full of contention and divided city aldermen. But the city's commitment is what makes it different from other town center projects, Williams said, because those buildings will truly signify the new heart of the city. 

"I don't know how compelled I would have been it if it wasn't for Oak Creek's participation," Williams said.

  • Review the plans and give your input at a public meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at the Oak Creek Community Center.

He plans on bringing a "coffee-to-cocktail" approach to the downtown area. In other words, a place where someone could spend the first part of the morning, the middle of the day or the evening hours—or all three.

That fosters a sense of community that can't found at other developments, Williams said. The hope for Drexel Town Square is to create a neighborhood where one sees familiar people on a regular basis and engages with the community.

"Familiarity breeds intimacy, intimacy breeds a sense of responsibility, a sense of responsibility builds community, and all of a sudden you realize you do have a neighborhood and a community in one localized place," Williams said.

Williams has also heard Oak Creek residents' desire for more nice restaurants in the city and says that will be a big part of Drexel Town Square.

"I feel extremely confident there will be a mix of restaurants and a mix of food and beverage opportunities here," he said.

The plan shows room for restaurants not only in the downtown, but also on land adjacent to Drexel Avenue and Howell Avenue, on the outskirts of a parking lot for a proposed Meijer store.

Meijer is the component that has drawn the most reaction and criticism from Oak Creek residents, with many expressing their displeasure about another a big box and another grocery store entering the city.

The developers involved with Drexel Town Square see it differently.

Meijer an 'advantage' for project

"I look at (Meijer) as an advantage, believe it or not," Barrett said. "It's going to be convenient the way that it's been designed, such that you can walk to Meijer. To me, from just the residential side of things, I look at that as a plus."

Williams said he sees Meijer as a catalyst, a business that will help facilitate the project by assuring potential retailers and restaurateurs that people will come to the site.

"They help us tell the story to all the other retailers that we need to recruit to this location, that there will be people here," Williams said.

"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."

Unlike department stores, a grocery store like Meijer generates more regular and repeat trips, Williams said, which means more people becoming familiar with the site.

The project will be designed in a way that makes it easy for people to access both Meijer and the downtown, Williams said, as well as for those living in the apartments to walk to Meijer.

"If this becomes part of someone's regular shopping habits, I feel pretty confident that they're also going to come into Main Street, and they're also going to visit these other retailers," Williams said. "And they're going to go have a cup of coffee or they're going to go have a cocktail."

That combination, of Meijer next to a new downtown, could change the entire perception of Oak Creek, Rinka said.

"That's what's so unique about this project—you have all of those amenities that people who live in Oak Creek enjoy and is convenient for them in a Meijer," he said. "But now they can also live in a community that has a really strong identity to it and a strong downtown."

JBeck February 08, 2013 at 05:57 PM
I hope OC does its research. Meijer closed several stores in Ohio in order to build some larger stores in better markets. The OC store hopefully won't be a guinea pig for southeastern Wisconsin, being the first one in the area built in a town that seems hungry for something, anything to get this project built. Also the retail businesses in the stores are not upscale. Think Great Clips and small bank branches. This could be a disaster for Oak Creek.
Joe K February 08, 2013 at 06:18 PM
I fall into one of the groups they are targeting for these "high end apartments" and I wouldn't even consider them for that reason alone.
Joe K February 08, 2013 at 06:21 PM
The YMCA was putting together plans to build near NML right as the economy started to tank. That put things on hold, but they still own that land as far as I know.
Joe K February 08, 2013 at 06:22 PM
The one thing we need even less than more grocery stores is more banks.
Resident of O.C. Paul February 08, 2013 at 06:36 PM
I agree Erich. Nothing Says high-end like apartments next door to the railroad tracks. I got to love the thinking that these developers are doing. It's not about the city or the residents, It is about the MONEY they (the developers and city officials) can make on this project. And the more planning that gets done that is further from what was originally proposed is making it look more like a "train wreck" when it finally gets done.
Resident of O.C. Paul February 08, 2013 at 06:45 PM
I know what you're saying. Build one in Oak Creek, just to get the foot into Wisconsin. Then open one in Brookfield or the Bayshore area, then close the Oak Creek store, leaving Oak Creek with a big, empty building that was built for one store, and isn't designed for anything else, or to another stores vision for a store. So it sits vacant for several years until it has fallen int disrepair and needs to be torn down, and it gets torn down not at the original owners/tenants expense, it's at the expense of the new site developer, adding to the cost of them developing the property; or it's at the city's expense.
Dan Vitek February 08, 2013 at 07:11 PM
The more I look at the lay out its a mess plan and simple a hi scool art class could do a better job every thing is a>>> backwards . It seems wi-pack wants to recoup there money and make a profit and we will be sitting on a big eye sore and white elephant Aldermen take notice nobody wants it expect a few yubbies who wont shop there any way to much like walmart[
OC Mom February 08, 2013 at 07:27 PM
I agree & it's time for both. Meijer would be a huge mistake! Call your mayor and your alderman & let them know how you feel.
Margaret Quinn February 08, 2013 at 08:32 PM
Meijer as a destination. Really? High end apartments next to railroad tracks? I don't see Meijer as the type of anchor store that will set Oak Creek apart. Yes it is new, but new isn't always better. I'd really like to see OC get it right for once and this isn't right.
vocal local 1 February 08, 2013 at 10:21 PM
The city will create a twenty million dollar tif district. They will use the remainder of the WIs Park Development agreement funds to build the library. IF the Tif fails the city gets stuck with refinancing and interest costs.
Peter K February 08, 2013 at 10:41 PM
I have lived in Oak Creek for 14 years now and I am proud to be a resident of this community. But the way that this project is heading is completely changing my opinion of this city. This proposal will not make this Town Square a destination for Southeast Wisconsin. We deserve something much better than this.
vocal local 1 February 08, 2013 at 10:41 PM
Dan, Could you please ID which Aldermen were taken in ? While your at it would you also explain why they did/do everything in closed session? Do you remember Pat DeGrave? Who took him in or who did he take in? We still don't know why he was fired now do we? The only people who were took in on this deal are the dreamers that don't understand that OC is not an upper class burb. We house the 6th largest coal powered power plant in the nation. When you look at other communities that house power plants do you view them as upper class with all the power line towers leading out of town?
Jill February 08, 2013 at 10:58 PM
Gosh, I feel all warm and fuzzy inside. An imagination is one thing, realism is another. I think we need a team that is more realistic. "Downtown" Oak Creek, that is funny. This isn't Milwaukee and we can't keep pretending it is.
Betty Kienzle February 09, 2013 at 02:30 AM
I have lived in Oak Creek since 1969. One would never know that there was ever a master plan for the city or that we had a city planner for all those years. Oak Creek is a mishmash of zoning. Much of the city is an industrial park with empty warehouses and new warehouses unfilled. Our main street is filled with warehouses. The city center is another example of fill it up with anything just to fill up empty land. How laughable that high end apartments next to railroad tracks and close to a 24 hour discount big box store will appeal to anybody. How many more apartments do we need in Oak Creek? I can envision those apartments quickly becoming part of the low-income housing just across the tracks. How unfortunate that the city hall and library will be in the middle of that mess. Who among our past and current city fathers is so hung up on a village concept? Where is the village on 27th street that was supposedly being planned? Let's just do whatever we can to prevent the Drexel property from becoming a blight. That might require throwing out the whole plan and starting fresh. That TIF district will be a tremendous tax burden for taxpayers.
Ellen February 09, 2013 at 02:49 AM
I agree that another store like Meijer isn't needed. Also, High end apartments near the railroad tracks? Keep in mind that the apartments on the other side of the railroad tracks aren't exactly high end..... Also the history of all those suicides on the tracks right there. Not good. I'm all for a new town square, city hall, library. But let's bring businesses like IKEA or something else that is more desired and not in direct competition with the several businesses around the area. I would love the YMCA to be there. The one is Cudahy is pretty outdated/run down. As much as I'm glad that the Pick N Save monopoly is over, lets not ruin Piggly Wiggly, Woodman's, Target, and Farm and Feet's business.
Dawn F Leys February 09, 2013 at 03:44 AM
Okay folks lets get a little more creative. I agree that we don't need anymore food stores or banks. Some of the banks on Howell have changed names more times than I can count. I agree an IKEA would be wonderful, Golden Corral, YMCA, etc. How about a community theater? I use to be a member of a theatrical troupe. We lost our home base because of age and repairs...lots of other troupes would love a place they could rent out and use. Some companies have to perform in HS if allowed even. They would love a place they could call home ... could be renting it out like the SM Arts Center. Let Parks and Rec use it to teach our children....I'd rather see that then another grocery store. I'd love to see a YMCA..family oriented and the one in Cudahy is falling apart. IKEA...enough said right there. We want to attract others to come to our city? Then put stuff in that others would not have to make a road trip to go to like Johnson Creek. Be different and inventive..Thanks
Ron mcD February 09, 2013 at 06:03 AM
Ron mcD February 09, 2013 at 06:07 AM
is oak creek suddenly too good for Meijer ? Ikea isn't coming, so get over it. You dumbells are going to pull a "cudahy" move and be so selective that nobody wants anything to do with you. WAKE UP !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
vocal local 1 February 09, 2013 at 12:31 PM
Ron, You need to post more often. I realize you write against the "opinions" of the majority but what you write is FACT and the truth just doesn't fly in the face of the ignorance of the general wanta be population with two nickels in their pocket who think they are successful and intelligent and deserve voice. OC's elect and some major employee's have historically suffered incompetence, have been driven by greed, and personal gain.Lots of dirty land deals using zoning and ploys. Currently, there is a need for low income HUD housing. I oppose totally low income complexes as quarter any large group with financial difficulties and social problems increase. What can and should be done is to designate 10-20% of total rental space scattered through out the complex as low income, it works as Cherry Creek has not.. And, if possible limit the low rental units for persons already living in OC. In the case before us that would mean 50-75 of the units would be HUD. I've seen many old Oak Creek Families and their children leave OC because they can't find affordable rental. This has to change. I lose it when I hear newcomers state HUD draws trash. Many single parent OC families have left and been replaced with goofs that definitely are not paid to think or vote. Retail and grocery comes and goes. Remember Atlantic Mills, Moreway, Arlans? Replaced by Kmart, Target, Walmart. Remember IGA, A&P, Krogers, National Tea Sentry? Gone as will be Pic & Sav and PIggly WIggly before Meijer's opens.
Marty February 09, 2013 at 01:37 PM
I agree. What this town needs is a monorail! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marge_vs._the_Monorail Or an escalator to nowhere!
vocal local 1 February 09, 2013 at 02:31 PM
Income disparity B/W OC and Franklin last I saw was two thousand dollars. It's not money that has made the difference it's competency and character of the elect. Considering the city receives nearly seven million dollars per year in addition to the tax base OC should have all kinds of extra's for it's residents but it does not. We could have all received free electric. We could have had a hot water discharge water park, steam rooms, saunas, fine dining on the edge of Bender Park which could have offered winter sports, skating, cross country, sledding that would have drawn people to the city but the Bolendar administration couldn't get it and it was suggested. Remember, Bolendar came on board at the advent of the expansion. He fully supported We Energies and WIS PARK and quickly rose in the ranks to mayor. AS mayor he perverted plans horribly against the advice of our Madison Officials and voice of the public. Fourth District Alderman, Mike Toman, Bolendar's right hand man didn't protect the residents but they kept right on voting him in. Mike is such a nice guy. Define Nice Please. Nice means killing residents? Nice means allowing children to sleep in homes with particulate matter seeping in the windows and doors and siding? Nice means ignoring residents with bad wells? Nice means putting the city in debt? Nice means sending city employees to college on the taxpayer dime and paying them more than the private sector? I THINK NOT.
Margaret Quinn February 09, 2013 at 03:14 PM
I personally like shopping at Pick 'n Save. I save a Loy more than I do at other stores in the area. I don't understand the dislike, but there others to choose from. That's not the point here though. The point is bringing in something we pretty much already have. It's telling us one thing and doing another. I've lived in OC for 35 years. Big ideas that never happen. I'm against the same old thing. I'm not against affordable housing. The city needs to be honest with its citizens. Listen to its citizens. You're not going to make everyone happy, but before doing something st haphazard please put a little more thought to this. Let's do it right!! For once.
Dawn February 09, 2013 at 11:22 PM
Dawn February 09, 2013 at 11:28 PM
If Meijer goes in, Pick n Save will be gone within a year or two. Don't we already have enough vacant old buildings in OC? Face it, our leadership is not thinking this through. I'm glad I live nowhere near the pit hole that area is going to become.
Jenny February 10, 2013 at 12:38 AM
I think we have fully established that “we” don’t want another superstore and I have to say a YMCA would be a jackpot "anchor". Has this been thought of before? This could be a PR goldmine and would be a great fit for our city. Maybe put an Alterra inside! Get a Lowland Group restaurant that serves our own Ray Allen's Growing Power produce! (Actually heading out of OC tonight to dine at one with friends also from OC.) THIS is the direction the city needs to take. This is what would attract quality businesses to our new town square. Oh and about the trains next to the proposed apartments-the folks living near them in swanky lofts downtown or homes in Fox Point and Bayside don't seem to mind or even notice them anymore. As mortgage requirements increase people will look for nicer rentals in convenient locations with close amenities and freeway access which they will find in the Drexel Town Square!
Ron mcD February 11, 2013 at 05:04 AM
I come from a neighboring community to shop in the Great city of Oak Creek every week along with many of my neighbors. Do you know why ? our communities don't have the retail that OC has. The more options you have there, the more outside $$$ will be flowing in. If you are against increasing commerce, then God help you.
vocal local 1 February 11, 2013 at 08:35 AM
2011 Rank: 40 Gross State Product: $255 billion 5-Year Annual GSP Growth: -0.1% Governor: Scott Walker Wisconsin’s economy is driven by manufacturing, agriculture and health care. The state is also the nation’s leading producer of cheese. The Badger State adopted the slogan “Open for Business” in 2011, erecting signs along the state border. The results have been middling at best as job growth is projected to be second worst in the U.S. through 2016.
vocal local 1 February 11, 2013 at 09:01 AM
Rank of 40 means were tenth from the bottom. Our growth is negative, meaning were losing jobs and expected to continue to lose for at least this year and the next three. Plus, more people are leaving the state than moving in. Prices will continue to rise, people will have less money to spend resulting in less retail sales across the board. In the throngs of a depression Oak Creek elect continue to fund risky TIF development per prior contractual developmental agreements with Wis Park. The only real choices city officials have now are risk TIF financing of new development or a law suit to challenge contractual agreements.
Resident of O.C. Paul February 11, 2013 at 03:20 PM
Seeing that the City is going ahead with a new city hall and library, which I am against, the anchor of the site should be those 2 buildings. Then work on the site in stages, no need to go at it full bore trying to develop all of the land all at once, and leave the residents paying for something that doesn't work, and ends up being a ghost town a couple years after they built it. They need to look at what is already present in the area, and line up businesses that would be an asset to the area, bringing in more of the same gives no diversity to what is already offered, and doesn't bring in much business; but, no, these scam artist "developers" want to get this project done and over with as soon as they can so that they can collect their money, and move on to the next scam.
gerard February 15, 2013 at 11:10 PM
Totally agree with no more chain except maybe an Olive Garden or Maggiano's. Also agree with others we do not need more apartments. I'm more concerned about the traffic/congestion and have heard nothing about traffic flow patterns. Howell avenue is a nightmare now. I'm alot disappointed we do not have more say so in who is bidding for space; it seems to me like we should be the final decision makers.


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