q&a with Mayor John Antaramian
City of Kenosha
Can you give us an update on how your Downtown Plan is coming?
I am very pleased with the progress on the Downtown Plan, which includes commercial and residential uses, as well as the construction of a performing arts center, new public park and new City Hall. The plan spans eight blocks and approximately 35 acres, and it will be developed in stages.
Construction began this spring on a parking garage on Eighth Avenue and 57th Street, which will be completed later this year.
The first major development of the Downtown Plan is the construction of the Brindisi Towers apartment/condominium high rise. The $79.5 million project is on 52nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, and is being developed by ARD, Inc.
Construction of the new City Hall on the corner of Sheridan Road and 56th Street will follow.
With the upcoming plans for the current City Hall property, what is the future of the globe fountain and the War Memorial located near the building?
The current City Hall property will be developed as a community gathering space and expanded park. The globe fountain and the War Memorial pay tribute to veterans and will remain an integral part of Veterans Memorial Park.
Where do you see Downtown in five years?
I am cautiously optimistic Downtown Kenosha businesses will be thriving in five years. The current public health crisis has been very difficult – particularly for small businesses. The increase in housing options downtown is beneficial to the surrounding businesses. In addition, Kenosha is growing in popularity as a destination for visitors. People are drawn by the lakefront and the parks, but are pleased to discover the stores and restaurants that enhance their visit to Kenosha.
What advice can you give to some of the struggling Downtown businesses trying to rebound from COVID-19?
Twenty-seven downtown small businesses benefited from a loan program established by the City in June. The Kenosha Area Business Alliance (KABA) administers the City Small Business Grant Program to assist businesses with 20 or fewer full-time-equivalent employees.
The City received $655,910 in emergency Community Development Block Grants through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act in May. Funds were distributed to nine organizations to support Kenosha residents with health, housing, food and other resources and support small community businesses affected by the pandemic.
The Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC) received the largest contribution of funds ($365,910), to be used toward a COVID-19 Fast Track Loan Program, focused on existing businesses looking for business financing during the pandemic.
With the rising water levels, what plan is there to protect the lakefront?
Protecting the lakefront has been a top priority since I returned to office. The City just completed a significant revetment project along Kennedy Drive, to shore up that area of the lakefront. Major efforts also are underway to protect the lakefront on the south side of the City, near Southport Park.
Any plans on the empty lot on the corner of 54th Street and Sixth Avenue (across from Trolley Dogs)?
Plans have not been finalized for the lot at this point.
With the pandemic, the Streetcar has halted service, any plans to resume?
Kenosha Area Transit tentatively is planning to resume streetcar service on August 1.
What would you like to see in Downtown?
A good mix of restaurants, entertainment options and retailers has emerged in Downtown over the last several years. With the addition of more housing options, I hope Downtown can now attract a specialty food store. I know that is something that people have been asking for.
When do you see major events taking place in Downtown again (beside the two markets)?
Regrettably, this year we have had to cancel large public gatherings in the interest of public safety during the pandemic. This is a situation that is not unique to Kenosha, as we have seen the cancellation of events elsewhere, including Summerfest in Milwaukee and the Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis. When we consider whether to hold large events, we have to consider the best public health recommendations available at the time. There is so much that is unknown, it is impossible to predict what the future holds.
How would you reply to concerns that the Markets are open, but other events are not?
The public markets are allowed to operate because they sell essential items – primarily food. The Kenosha County Health Department has set guidelines the markets must follow, including plans for social distancing and best health practices by vendors (such as wearing masks and not allowing food samples.) The markets may not offer public entertainment and patrons are encouraged not to linger and socialize.
In contrast, you cannot effectively enforce socially distancing at a concert.
What summer event are you looking forward to attending the most in 2021?
I am looking forward to participating in the 2021 Civic Veterans Parade. It is always so enjoyable to see the number of citizens that come out to celebrate our veterans and Independence Day.
Can you give us a state of Downtown Kenosha?
Without a doubt, we are all facing challenging times. But there are also many positive things taking place. From my perspective, the future looks encouraging.
Businesses are making significant commitments to Downtown, including two large properties on 58th Street that have long been vacant. The 22,000-square-foot renovation of The Barden (on the northeast corner of Seventh Avenue and 58th Street) is a $3.5 million dollar investment by Witico Development Corp., with a new home for Public Craft Brewing Co. on the first floor and a wedding/banquet venue on the second floor. Just to the west, BluePoint Development is undertaking a $7.7 million renovation of the historic Alford Building, with plans for first floor commercial space and residential above.
The addition of Herzing University on 58th Street also is a good complement to the mix of downtown businesses.
Additional housing opportunities are on the horizon, with a proposal for a $17 million residential development from Lake Terrace, LLC. The luxury housing plan features a five-story, 68-unit building at the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 59th Street.
These new projects combine with the existing businesses to offer a board array of services and attractions for both residents and visitors, and are a catalyst for the continued growth and success of downtown businesses.
Interview & photo by Donny Stancato – Edited by Jason Hedman
(This story originally appears the print version of the Summer/Fall 2020 issue of Downtown Kenosha Magazine)