Preserving the Past

Racine Mayor John Dickert announced on Thursday a $5.5 million redevelopment of the former Porters Building in downtown Racine that would add new retail shopping and apartment options to the city.

Dickert held a press conference and spoke alongside the owners of the Porters of Racine Building, Micah and Bob Waters.

The structure at 301 Sixth St. had previously housed Porters, a high-end furniture store, for the past 152 years. Porters closed about two years ago. The redevelopment plans to use all 80,000 square feet of the building, dividing it into 37 apartments and seven ground-floor retail spaces, according to the building owners.

“The project is inspired by the past but designed for the future,” Micah Waters said during the press conference.

The building will draw on its art deco- style roots and will look similar to its original design from 1939.

“We wanted to keep it authentic,” Bob Waters said. “In 1939, what was originally nine separate buildings was combined into what you see today. We want the building to look like the past, but have all of the modern technology people want.”

City officials have proposed a tax increment finance district for the three-story building. Micah says this would allow enough finances to see the project through. The tax increment would freeze the building’s taxes at their current level. City Development Director Brian O’Connell explained that this will save the building owners an estimated $1.1 million over the next 20 years.

A few opponents of the redevelopment stood outside of city hall, urging the city not to give the Porters Building a tax increment.

A tax Increment finance district would allow the building owners to not have pay property taxes during the next 20 years.

“I don’t know how much of a demand there is to live downtown anymore,” Sherri Michaels, one of the protesters, said. “Our city is already cutting programs, how can they seriously cut taxes on huge buildings in this economy?”

Dickert said he was proud of the efforts of everyone involved with the project.

“It’s really incredible,” Dickert said. “From our housing and finance committee, to the building owners, everyone worked to get his done.”

Building developers will hire local companies for all of the construction work. Construction will begin sometime this spring. The entire project should be done in 18 to 24 months, according to Downtown Racine Corporation Executive Director Devin Sutherland.

The apartments will range from $500 to $995 monthly. Apartment sizes range from 480-1,550 square feet. Micah Waters said the building will have its own 50-spot parking lot. Both owners said they did market research, and found a high demand for market value apartments in downtown Racine.

Dickert says this redevelopment plan is exactly what he had in mind for the city of Racine.

“When you look at the fact that this has been part of our long term planning since I became mayor, this is one of our pinnacles for the additional development we are doing in Racine,” Dickert said.