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Fowler Lake Village hailed as catalyst to thriving downtown Oconomowoc

The Common Council on Tuesday, July 17, 2012, approved establishing a developers agreement with Rockwell Development Inc. to exchange city-owned property behind City Hall (shown in blue hatches) for the original Rockwell parcels along St. Paul and Pleasant streets (at right). Rockwell will build it development in the new area and the city will use the other property for parking.

The Common Council on Tuesday, July 17, 2012, approved establishing a developers agreement with Rockwell Development Inc. to exchange city-owned property behind City Hall (shown in blue hatches) for the original Rockwell parcels along St. Paul and Pleasant streets (at right). Rockwell will build it development in the new area and the city will use the other property for parking. Photo By Misty Dodge

July 18, 2012

City of Oconomowoc - Developers are optimistic that their project formerly known as Rockwell Village will be a success.

They said based on conversations they've had with potential tenants of the mixed-use development there is high interest in purchasing residential and commercial units in the proposed downtown structure. They have renamed the project Fowler Lake Village and a developer's agreement was approved to move forward with the project.

"We have a 25- to 30-percent commitment from discussions we've had with restaurants and residents," said developer Jeff Seymour, adding, "I would have quit a long time ago (if there hadn't been enough interest)."

Discussions began Tuesday on an innovative agreement between :Rockwell developers and the city - mainly facilitated through the Community Development Authority. (editor's note: even though the name of development was changed, the city still refers to it as Rockwell in the developer's agreement)

Rockwell has been approved for nearly a decade for a development along St. Paul and Pleasant streets. However, developers have said that lending has delayed the project. In 2010 discussions began between the city and Seymour on ways to resurrect the project.

On Tuesday, both the CDA and Common Council approved a resolution authorizing an agreement between the city and Rockwell to proceed with a new plan that moves the development footprint and creates new parking space downtown.

The plan shifts it from its original site on St. Paul and Pleasant streets to an L-shaped area behind City Hall that extends to Fowler Lake. The city will take ownership of the land owned by Seymour and use it to create the parking lost where Fowler Lake Village is proposed to build.

The agreement between the two parties comes with high expectations for the developer (see related story). A timeline for the project is not yet available because an official developers agreement has not yet been prepared, explained Director of Economic Development Bob Duffy. What was approved by the CDA and Council on Tuesday was to move forward with the agreement.

Support and criticism

Several residents spoke during Tuesday's Common Council meeting; many were in support of the proposed project, while others shared concerns.

Jon Spheeris, president of Prudential Absolute Realtors - which has been in downtown Oconomowoc for more than three decades - hailed the agreement as the catalyst the city needs to make its downtown thrive.

Spheeris was highly critical of the administration when asked to share his opinions of city process three years ago. Mayor Jim Daley invited Spheeris and other developer-stakeholders to publicly share their grievances in working with the city. At the time, Spheeris said it was impossible to get developments approved. "I would think you would want to build your tax base, but you have to be friendly," he said during the 2010 meeting.

But Tuesday night, Spheeris praised the officials for their progress and encouraged support of the project for the betterment of downtown.

"It would be great to see business thrive instead of just survive. I can't stress enough that we need to get people living downtown. I hope you take advantage of this opportunity and move forward," he said, referring to the proposed 55-unit apartment project. Others who spoke in support included Maureen Stapleton and CDA members Floss Whalen and Mary Blaska.

Stapleton's real estate office on Main Street was claimed in the fatal fire July 1. She came out Tuesday night to express her thanks for those who fought the fire and offered her support, saying they are what makes Oconomowoc great. She encouraged the city to make it an even "better place" by supporting the new development.

"Some people asked me if I was going to relocate in Delafield or Hartland … then there were people who said, 'Gee, too bad it didn't happen across street," Stapleton said, referring to mostly vacant buildings in the 100 block of North Main Street.

"It was real shocking that some people even said too it bad didn't take down whole block. This says to me people want change … eventually you have to sacrifice to get people to come downtown and not just to see a fire," she said.

But others think it's not the right fit for downtown. Alderman Bob Morgan said he does not support the plan. "This is more foolish than Jack and the beanstalk. This makes no sense financially and customerwise. The building is ungodly big (and) doesn't fit downtown," Morgan said.

Alderman James Larsen said the parking lot that the city is proposing for Rockwell belongs to the entire city, and it would be unfair to use it for a development. He said the Rockwell project should remain in its original location.

Aldermen Cathleen Slattery, Rich Allen and Dave Nold said they support the project that would bring people downtown. Allen said he would be shocked if people didn't support it and thinks it will become the talk of Southeastern Wisconsin. Slattery said the fact the Rockwell developers are still interested in a project in the city speaks volumes about their enthusiasm and commitment.

The resolution was approved on a 6-1 vote, with Larsen voting no. Morgan was absent when the vote was cast.

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