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Sawall to break ground in 2013 on Mammoth Springs complex

No one sure how to move the Bug Line trail

Dec. 24, 2012

Village of Sussex - Art Sawall, a Brookfield computer software creator and real estate developer, did not allow the year's first big snow storm or a busy PlanCommission agenda, to distract him from his mission at Village Hall last week.

He unveiled to the Plan Commission on Thursday, Dec. 20 his long-awaited plans for the mixed-use residential, retail and commercial development. The development site is at cannery corners or the corner of Waukesha Avenue and Main Street, which Sawall has redubbed Mammoth Springs.

Since he purchased the former cannery company site - apparently with cash - about two years ago, he has become somewhat of a mysterious figure around Village Hall. While some village officials and residents have heard or read about him, they had not met the man.

"Until tonight, I wasn't sure he really existed," said one village official who would prefer to remain anonymous.

With his engineer, architect, and banker in tow, the congenial Sawall brought big picture boards and architectural drawings illustrating the three-story apartment buildings with underground parking that overlook a quarry pond that used to be one of the village's most popular swimming holes.

The one- to two-bedroom apartments will range in size from about 750- to 800-square-feet and rent for between $900 and $1,300 a month depending on amenities and the number of bedrooms, according to the plans.

After the first two apartments are built and occupied, Sawall says he will build two buildings for retail or office use. After those buildings are completed, additional structures are planned but always with the strategy that the apartments come first and then the commercial buildings.

"In today's market, that is the only way its works. If I tried to build the retail first, I would have to give the buildings back to my banker," he quipped.

Sawall and village officials admit they have yet to figure out how to remove the biggest obstacle to the development; the Bug Line Recreation Trail which runs nearly through the center of the property.

According to Sawall's plan, the trail will be moved off the property to the west and south of the project site. A private path winding its way around the apartments and the quarry pond will eventually connect to the Bug Line.

However, the details of how to move the trail in a manner that satisfies federal, state and county authorities has yet to be worked out, according to Village Administrator Jeremy Smith.

Sawall said the construction on some of the apartment and retail buildings can begin while he and the various agencies try to figure out a way to move the trail.

Smith was asked why the plan was presented to the commission without first resolving how to move the trail.

"Because the developer wanted to present it," Smith responded.

Sawall was asked if it was smart strategy to present the plan to the commission in a December meeting with a large agenda including a controversial development project at highways 164 and K.

"I didn't want to wait until January. I want to break ground in the spring," he said.

Although Sawall made his fortune creating computer software, he comes from a family of real estate contractors and developers. He has invested in another high-end apartment complex in Wauwatosa.

A click on Craig's List lead him to the cannery property. He found a Brookfield duplex listed for sale through the online classified ad service. He thought it would be good investment and contacted the real estate broker.

The broker told him the property had been sold but suggested Sawall look at cannery corners in Sussex. Sawall, 54, has some familiarity with Sussex. Quad Tech, which is part of Quad/Graphics, was one of his first customers when founded the company ECT International which created commercial software and was later sold to Bentley Systems of Pennsylvania.

No date has been set for when Sawall will make a more detailed presentation to the commission and apply for a conditional use permit.

Commission members reacted favorably to his conceptual proposal with most of the questions focusing on how he would design underground parking and why he wanted apartments built before retail buildings.

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