The Bottom Line: Downtown welcomes its newest ‘anchor,’ State and Main

Here’s a thought to ponder for those a little bit familiar with the recently opened State and Main building in Downtown Racine: Name what last stood on that spot. (Answer below.)

State and Main, named for the two streets that meet there, was publicly christened Friday with the usual dignitaries, speeches, tours and snacks. But that doesn’t make it ordinary by any definition. The retail/residential, or “mixed use,” structure is a huge advancement for Downtown Racine’s fortunes.

I can and will defend the superlatives in that statement. Let’s start with the three-part answer to the above question, courtesy of city officials Rick Jones and Joe Heck. Where this $19.7 million, four-story, 107-unit, multiple-retail building now stands tall were the following, moving from south to north:

• A triangular open space that formerly housed a restaurant with hotel above it.

• A former, sweeping turn from Lake Avenue onto Main Street going north.

• A gas station. An old, ground-polluting gas station, mind you. Cleaning petroleum products out of the soil there cost a truckload of money.

Other than the street mentioned above, that gas station was the last thing that Downtown “lost” from the site — before State and Main was ever a twinkle in the eyes of the developers, Gorman & Co. of Madison.

How’s that for an upgrade?

State and Main — driven by a $7.5 million tax credit boost from the Wisconsin Housing Economic Development Authority — is Gorman’s third Racine project, following the Belle Harbor Loft Apartments and 100-unit Mitchell Wagon Factory.

In all, the company has created 285 Downtown-area living units and about six retail spaces (none of them leased yet) at State and Main. As of Friday, said Gorman spokesman Chris Laurent, 20 of State and Main’s apartments were rented and four condos sold.

Downtown Racine Corp. Executive Director Devin Sutherland said Gorman’s investments in Downtown have helped to create confidence among other investors about sinking money into the area.

State and Main also fulfills the north “anchor” that the original Downtown redevelopment plan sought for that corner, noted Brian Anderson of Johnson Redevelopment, which is the landlord for the 16,500 square feet of retail space.

I’ve heard a couple of people remark that the building comes right to the sidewalks, and they’re not used to that (the resident parking is underneath). But in that aspect, it’s just a larger version of historic Downtown buildings which met the sidewalk, with first-floor shops and people living above them. That is another reason why State and Main, built in the New Urbanism style, will help energize Downtown streets.

So, what’s next for Gorman & Co., besides selling, renting and leasing out State and Main? Laurent said Gorman employees will soon begin looking for a possible project to build in Racine.

Major building saved

An Uptown landmark building, the one which housed the former Paulson’s Junction Furniture Co., is being saved from the wrecking ball.

The multi-story structure at 1320-26 Washington Ave., which had degenerated to a storefront church, has been under a raze-or-repair order.

A dangerously decrepit attached frame structure in the rear was the reason for that order. With about $40,000 in back taxes owed, it was obvious the owners weren’t going to rescue the building.

But R&R Innovative Investments has had its purchase order accepted and expects to close in mid-September. The small firm plans to rip off the building’s problematic back section, and get a new roof on, this fall.

Racine Chief Building Inspector Rick Heller, whose department had written the raze-repair order, was happy about the outcome. “I really didn’t want to see it torn down,” he said.

Next year, there is a very good chance that the building will become a part of Uptown’s revival program based on attracting artists to live and work there.

Business reporter Michael Burke can be reached at (262)631-1716 or by e-mail at mburke@journaltimes.com.