Gorman revises plans for Union Corners project

By Dean Mosiman, Wisconsin State Journal, April 30, 2014

In response to concerns, Gorman & Co. has made major changes and won neighborhood support for the long-stalled Union Corners project on the East Side, opening the way to key city approvals next month.

Gorman, chosen to develop the city-owned, 11.4-acre site in late 2012, relocated a proposed two-story UW Health clinic from the gateway corner of East Washington Avenue and Milwaukee Street to East Washington and Sixth Street, with the gateway now anchored by a pair of four- to six-story mixed-use buildings that may include a Fresh Thyme grocery store.

The neighborhood wanted the taller, more substantial buildings at the gateway of the $83 million, multiphase redevelopment.

Also, revised plans add underground parking, cut the height of two apartment buildings near existing single-family homes, and create a pedestrian walkway through the center of the property.

“I’m really encouraged now,” Gary Gorman said. “It’s been a long haul. Frankly, it’s been a little frustrating at times. But it’s a project that’s going to be here for a long time.”

After much effort, “I think it’s got all the right pieces,” said Ald. Marsha Rummel, 2nd District, adding that the new plans got an “overwhelmingly positive” response at a neighborhood meeting last Thursday.

The city has been awaiting a project for a decade. McGrath Associates, the former property owner, proposed a major mixed-use project in 2004 that won broad support from city officials and residents but stalled in June 2007.

The city acquired the site in late 2010and chose Gorman to develop it two years later. In October 2013, the city and Gorman signed a deal under which the city would sell the property for $1 to Gorman, who would repay the city’s $6 million investment in land and public improvements through higher property taxes generated by the project.

In January, Gorman offered poorly received plans for a less-dense development with more parking lots, less public space, the two-story UW Health clinic at the gateway corner and four-story apartment buildings near the single-family homes.

But Gorman continued to work with the mayor’s office, city staff and the neighborhood to produce the latest plans, with the key breakthrough coming when UW Health agreed to relocate the clinic from the gateway corner. Gorman also credited Mayor Paul Soglin for “injecting urgency in the process.”

The project is broken into four phases, the first the two-story, 60,000-square-foot clinic. The second piece features a four- to six-story mixed-use building at the gateway corner with a grocery store and a restaurant down Milwaukee Street and a four- to six-story mixed-use building down East Washington Avenue. A town square behind those buildings could be used for farmers’ markets or other neighborhood events, Gorman said.

Additional phases include a transit hub, two mixed-use buildings with first-floor retail and housing along the pedestrian path, and four apartment buildings. Overall, two-thirds of parking would be underground.Gorman said he’s unsure if city financial support would be needed for underground parking for the grocery.

The plans will be considered by the Urban Design Commission on May 5, the Plan Commission on May 12 and the City Council on May 20.