The owner of a set of South Water Street riverfront properties has halted an environmental review the city had planned at the site after Blackhawk Community Credit Union pulled the plug on a landmark development there.
The city had considered an unusual approach: a $7.1 million, upfront deal to buy and clean several parcels before selling them to Blackhawk for $1. The credit union had planned a new corporate headquarters and mixed-use office building.
That deal is now shelved, and the riverfront property’s owner, Creative Business Developers, has rescinded permission it gave the city to conduct an environmental and floodplain analysis of the site. The analysis was one of the city’s prerequisites in a deal to buy the properties.
Mark Hazelbaker, an attorney for Creative Business Developers, wrote in a May 17 letter addressed to City Manager Mark Freitag that the owner “needs to reassess what to do with the properties along South Water Street,” according to documents obtained by The Gazette.
“That (Blackhawk Community Credit Union) proposal is now dead, through no action on our part,” Hazelbaker wrote. “Therefore, there is no reason for CBD to agree to the (city’s) testing.”
The city received the letter Friday, the day after Blackhawk announced it was walking away from plans to build a $30 million “Reflections Plaza” at South Water Street.
Blackhawk had trumpeted the project in a public reveal last fall. It would have included a “legacy center” to honor GM workers along with a new credit union headquarters, a new branch office and tenant space for retail and dining.
But the fast-growing credit union now aims instead to develop a new headquarters at the Moose Lodge property on the west side, and it intends to locate a legacy center in the former Chase Bank along West Milwaukee Street in downtown Janesville.
Blackhawk announced late last week that it could close on the Moose Lodge property in June. Credit union CEO Sherri Stumpf said Blackhawk intends also to buy the vacant, former Chase bank.
She said the changes came because Blackhawk wanted to complete its project by 2021. The credit union was uncertain whether the city or property owner could ready the South Water Street sites by this fall, when the credit union had planned to break ground, she said.
Stumpf said Blackhawk informed the city months ago it was eyeing “alternate” sites for the project if the South Water Street location wasn’t workable.
Janesville City Council President Rich Gruber said he’s known for a while that Blackhawk had a few alternate sites in mind, something he said is “common” for larger-scale developments. Gruber said he’d learned about two weeks ago that Blackhawk was ready to walk away from the South Water Street proposal.
He said the city’s site evaluation would have been “a somewhat lengthy process that takes a couple of months to get in hand.”
“Apparently, that didn’t fit into the timetable that she (Stumpf) had in mind,” Gruber said.
The city already had hired a consultant to conduct environmental testing at the former Bee Line Wheel Alignment property and former Rock County Jail site, the South Water Street properties owned by Creative Business Developers.
Those sites are just south of the city-owned, former Mercy Options site along West Court Street.
The swath of riverfront is included in the city’s ARISE riverfront redevelopment strategy as a “catalyst site.”
Gruber said the city’s consultant still was in early phases of its analysis of the sites when it became clear the Blackhawk deal was falling apart. He said the city had not yet received any findings from the analysis.
Gruber indicated that an environmental analysis will continue at the former Mercy Options property owned by the city. Blackhawk’s change in plans means the city will hit the pause button on deciding whether to buy the properties owned by Creative Business Developers.
“All the city can do is make available the practice of using the (economic development) tools that we have in the hopes that we can attract someone who is willing to pull the trigger on a new development. Beyond that, the city really has no control,” Gruber said.
Blackhawk’s plans to reuse and revamp the Chase Bank and Moose Lodge properties are wins for the downtown and the city’s west side, Gruber said.
“My focus more than anything else isn’t on what happened yesterday. It’s today and tomorrow,” Gruber said. “We’ve got another exciting development project that’s going to change the face of downtown Janesville. That’s going to be a reality.”