Gorman & Co. revising Union Corners plans after cool reception from staff, neighborhood

By:  Dean Mosiman, Wisconsin State Journal, February 13, 2014

After a recent proposal got a cool reception, Gorman & Co. is revising  plans for the long-dormant  Union Corners project on the corner of East Washington Avenue and Milwaukee  Street.

Meanwhile, Gebhardt Development has sought brief delays on city approvals to  make final tweaks to a $70 million to $85 million redevelopment in the 800 block  of East Washington Avenue.

Gorman’s latest proposal envisions less surface parking and more underground  spaces, taller commercial buildings, and shorter apartment buildings near  existing single-family homes in the neighborhood.

Gary Gorman declined to reveal full details until sharing them with a  neighborhood steering committee on Saturday.

“I’m confident we’ll please enough people to gain support,” he said. The  neighborhood review will be followed by submission of a formal plan, to go  before the Urban Design Commission in May.

Gorman was chosen in late 2012 to develop the 11.4-acre Union Corners site,  acquired by the city two years earlier. On Oct. 30, 2013, the city and Gorman  signed an agreement under which the city would sell the site to Gorman for $1,  repaying the city’s $6 million investment through higher property taxes  generated by the estimated $83.9 million project.

But informal plans  Gorman offered in January called for a less-dense development, with more parking  lots, less public space, and four-story apartment buildings near existing  single-family homes.

The project changed for several reasons, Gorman said. Initial concepts were  based on $14 million in tax increment financing support, not the current  agreement that provides land but no cash, he said. Also, negotiations with UW  Health, which wants a two-story, 60,000-square-foot clinic at the corner of East  Washington Avenue and Milwaukee Street, resulted in the elimination of a parking  structure, to be replaced with more underground and surface parking, he said.  Talks for landing a perhaps 25,000-square-foot grocery meant even more parking  space.

Gorman said he’s unable to make the health clinic building taller. But he has  removed some surface parking in favor of a 240-space underground garage,  increased the potential height of commercial buildings from four to six stories,  and cut the height of the apartment buildings to two stories.

Ald. Marsha Rummel, 6th District, called the proposed changes “the first step  in a conversation” and said she was optimistic “we can figure this out.”

Gebhardt, despite the latest delay, is closer to approvals.

A first phase includes a 55,000-square-foot Skogen’s Festival Foods grocery  store, 30,000 square feet of retail/office space, 215 apartments and a  four-story parking garage with 500 spaces, Otto Gebhardt said. A second piece  has 60,000 to 100,000 square feet of retail/office space, 26 owner-occupied  units, 20 townhouses and 200 more parking stalls, he said. Gebhardt is seeking a  $7 million TIF loan.

“If you get a great project, the wait and the late start is worth it,” said  Ald. Ledell Zellers, 2nd District.

Gebhardt hopes to begin phase one in April, completing that piece in summer  2015.