Blackhawk Community Credit Union is abandoning plans to build a new, riverfront headquarters and museum development along South Water Street in downtown Janesville.
Instead, the credit union plans to break up the development across two properties—the former Chase Bank on West Milwaukee Street downtown and the Moose Lodge site on the city’s west side.
Credit Union CEO Sherri Stumpf said the credit union intends to buy the former Chase Bank at 100 W. Milwaukee St., which has been vacant since late 2016, and buy the 15-acre Moose Lodge property at 2701 Rockport Road.
The 24,000-square-foot former Chase Bank would house a planned “legacy center” that would act as a museum to honor the history of autoworkers who labored at the former General Motors’ Janesville assembly plant. The Moose Lodge property would house the credit union’s future corporate headquarters and act as a company “campus” that could accommodate the credit union’s growth, Stumpf told The Gazette on Thursday.
“Timing” and “complexity” of the original project site spurred the change in plans, Blackhawk wrote in a news release Thursday.
The change comes after a set of ballyhooed announcements last September by Blackhawk that it planned to build $30 million Reflections Plaza—a corporate headquarters, legacy center and multi-use commercial space—along a two-block stretch of South Water Street properties along the east shore of the Rock River between Hedberg Public Library and West Court Street.
The credit union had been in talks with the city in early April over a proposal by the credit union for the city to buy the South Water Street properties from a private owner and pay for any environmental cleanup needed at the sites—an estimated $7.1 million up-front deal. The cleaned site would have been sold to the credit union for $1.
In the wake of Blackhawk’s Thursday announcement, that deal apparently is now off the table.
Stumpf said city staff was working on an environmental analysis but had not countered the credit union’s proposal or indicated whether the proposed deal might move ahead. She said the credit union had not publicly disclosed it, but she said Blackhawk had made city officials aware it was looking at the former Chase Bank and Moose Lodge properties as “alternate” locations for its legacy center and headquarters ever since it began considering the project.
“We always had an alternate plan. The development plan on the (South Water Street) riverfront has had a certain amount of complexities to it. We needed an alternate plan, but the legacy center was always planned as a downtown development,” Stumpf said.
By “complexities,” Stumpf said she meant an unknown scope of environmental cleanup, plus floodplain concerns that either the city or the property owner would have to work through. The sites earmarked for Blackhawk’s Reflections Plaza included the former Rock County Jail site, the vacant Bee Line property and the adjacent Nowlan & Mouat Law Firm.
Stumpf said it was unknown what scope of regulatory work might be required to do a large-scale commercial development on a low-lying property along the river.
“When you dig that hole, you have no idea what you’d find. The places where you could have experienced delays were numerous. It could have been a lot of work with the DNR, a lot to work out with flooding issues,” Stumpf said.
Meanwhile, the credit union faced a 2021 deadline to vacate its Kennedy Road branch, which it has already agreed to donate to HealthNet.
“Time was of the essence at this point,” Stumpf said.
Blackhawk has agreements to buy both the Chase Bank and Moose Lodge properties, and the Moose Lodge sale could close in June, Stumpf said.
She said it’s undecided whether the Moose Lodge building would become part of the credit union’s corporate headquarters, but the credit union plans to build a new office on the site.
Stumpf said she and the owner of the former Chase Bank, Janesville developer Jim Johnson, have been communicating directly over the sale of the building. Its location is adjacent to the town square and festival street, a linchpin in ARISE, a public-private redevelopment of the downtown riverfront.
The former bank’s two-story structure would house Blackhawk’s planned legacy center, and an addition on the west side of the building could be leased for office space or retail. Stumpf said the parking lot at the property would likely be opened for public use, an oasis of parking she said is “much needed” downtown.
Blackhawk plans to strip the marble facing off the bank and restore its original, 1913 front.
Inside the building, Stumpf said the credit union would remove the drop ceiling to unveil the original, vaulted ceilings.
Work could start on that project this fall, and it could be completed in 2021, which was the original timeline for the Reflections Plaza proposal, Stumpf said.
Stumpf said Blackhawk always had planned to develop a new headquarters in Janesville, and it always intended to build a legacy center downtown. She said the credit union is excited about the prospect of re-using the former Chase Bank and Moose Lodge sites.
“These are two existing structures that have been left open or available, and we’re glad to use them. When you look around Janesville, there are plenty of buildings that you could restore,” Stumpf said.
“If we’re not going to build brand new, we’ve taken two buildings that mean a lot to this community and we’re making good use of them.”