Meijer still in the market for city of Waukesha's approval

Road construction costs tied to the the Meijer development on Sunset Drive were more than the city expected. Meijer officials had planned to seek final approval for the 192,000-square-foot supercenter this month, but due to the increased costs of the road project the city is waiting on the approval.
Published on: 6/23/2014

The proposed Meijer big-box retail development could soon get final approval from the city of Waukesha, assuming a new higher estimate on related street reconstruction costs doesn't throw a roadblock in front of those plans.

As of this week, Meijer was still awaiting the necessary final approval to proceed with its plans for a 192,940-square-foot store and 2,509-square-foot gas station on a 31-acre parcel at the southeast corner of Tenny Avenue and East Sunset Drive.

City Administrator Ed Henschel said store officials had planned on presenting their final site plan for approval before the city's Plan Commission this month. However, more preliminary analysis needs to be done concerning the reconstruction of Sunset Drive before city staff is comfortable bringing the proposal back to commissioners.

More costly road work

The possible snafu is the cost of that road project, which would widen Sunset to four lanes, is now estimated at $1.4 million following further analysis by the city's engineering department on the improvements in stormwater development and wetland issues.

Henschel, who recently announced the new cost estimate, gave members of the city's Finance Committee an update at a meeting earlier this month.

Henschel said the Smart Family Trust, which owns the property where Meijer would be built, has committed to pay $700,000 toward the improvements on Gramling Lane and approximately 200 feet west of Sunset View. That means the city would have to pick up the remaining $700,000.

According to the agenda, finance committee members were originally asked whether they would recommend to the council that the city invest $300,000 for Sunset Drive improvements required for the Meijer project.

After further discussion this month, the finance committee put the item on hold until more analysis can be done about the $400,000 difference.

"The staff felt it was inappropriate for (Meijer) to go to the Plan Commission without at least the finance committee aware that there is an additional cost with roadway improvements in conjunction with that project," Henschel said.

Henschel acknowledged that the higher amount gave him reason to pause.

"When it was estimated that the city's portion of Sunset Drive is going to be in the range of $300,000, I would have come to the Finance Committee voicing full support of the expenditure, as the return on investment (would have been) pretty rapid," he said. "But this ($700,000) number takes a little bit more analysis and thought."

Reasons to proceed

Henschel, who noted the construction was anticipated for 2015, added: "At the same time we're under some time constraints for Meijer to start the construction."

Other factors tend to encourage favorable action by the city.

When the project is completed, Meijer is estimated to bring in an estimated $180,000 annually to the city, City of Waukesha Planner Jennifer Andrews said.

David Smart, who represents the family who owns the property where Meijer is looking at building, said the Meijer site would also have an impact on a future residential development in that area.

"We have roughly around $30 million of additional development that would flow from (a Meijer store)," Smart said.

That point wasn't lost on aldermen.

"It's very important that we cooperate with and push the Meijer development in every way, because the life of that whole section of our city depends on it," Alderman Roger Patton said, referring to the nearby vacant Kmart site across the street. "... That redevelopment (doesn't get revitalized) if we can't get the Meijer redevelopment going."

Expanding presence

The Meijer development was given preliminary approvals during hotly contested Plan Commission and Common Council meetings last year, despite neighbors of the site voicing their opposition for the project.

Meijer, headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is a food, clothing and home merchandising store. It has more than 200 supercenters in Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois and has been looking to expand into Wisconsin over the last couple of years.

Plans for a Meijer in Sussex are moving forward, with preliminary work now underway at the site. Meijer is also looking at opening stores in Grafton, Greenfield, Oak Creek, Wauwatosa, Kenosha and Janesville over the next couple of years.