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Machinery Row, a massive redevelopment project, that includes rehabbing the old Case tractor plant, has had its share of issues. Here’s why the city has dedicated so much time and effort into the project and why the remain committed to doing it.
Walking through the old Case plant at 900 Water Street, you notice the high-pitched ceilings outlined with metal and glass. The natural light floods in. The cranes that once lifted tractors and tanks hang above, rusted and silent. And then the mountains of boxes catch your eye: The party favor tiaras from 2000, coloring books, and baskets litter the floor.
While the city doesn’t own 820 and 900 Water Street, they want to see it get developed. It’s a complex project with ground contamination, asbestos, lead-based paint, and disrepair. Part of the roof is coming down. A pump had burst and was starting to fill part of the building.
Machinery Row Financing
But while the project will likely cost millions to develop, the city has done much of the heavy lifting in arranging a series of tax credits to offset the cost. They have a $1 million idle industrial site grant and have had the property qualify for $9 million Historical Tax Credits. Some of the clean-up of the property has already begun because it had to be done anyway.
Still, the project has been the source of frustration because it has yet to move forward — after over two years — with development. So why not just tear down the building?
Mayor John Dickert points to the history of the site.
“It’s kind of the fabric of Racine, from not only putting tractors together to putting tanks together during World War II. This (building) has deep roots and deep history into our city,” he said. “The thing that people forget about the 900 and 820 buildings… there are very few places in America where you are going to find these types of buildings anymore.
“It reminds people of the strength and history of this community. And more importantly it gives them a place to live that you can’t live anywhere else.”
Racine Courts New Developer
Gorman & Company Inc. is looking to develop 820 and 900 Water St., which are two buildings in the Machinery Row project. But they haven’t officially committed to the project until their due diligence is completed and the city is under a tight timeline to get the project done or they could lose those tax credits.
“The developer has asked for 60 days to see if he can make the deal work,” Dickert said. “They have to figure out how many apartments. How much commercial space. Who’s going to go in there and if the financing is going to work out.”
But the state is also looking at whether they want to keep the Historic Tax Credits, Dickert said.
“So we’ve got to move on this immediately,” he said.
Rodney Blackwell, owner of Iowa-based development firm Financial District Properties, still owns the two properties and has them listed under FDP MR LLC.
He received a notice of default on the development agreement and right to cure the default in December from the city. In 2014, the city gave Blackwell a bridge loan to buy the property. He promised to pay the money back to the city. But now that he’s in default, he needs to get another developer to take on the project to cure the issue with the city.
The difference between Gorman and Blackwell?
“We don’t believe this project was his (Blackwell’s) priority,” Dickert said. “And we think the lack of effort into this area was obvious to us and the community.”
But Gorman is local and knows the market.
“We’ve got a hungry developer that is interested in the site and wants to do it… and wants to partner with us,” Dickert said.
Officials with Gorman & Company will have two months to do their due diligence on the site and come back to the city with revisions to the development agreement, explained City Planner Amy Connolly.
“We’re taking a time out,” Connolly said. “This new developer will have 60 days to do their due diligence to decide whether they want the property.”