Hope for Uptown; Grocery store, restaurant proposed for Uptown Lofts development

The developer of an $18-million housing development in Kenosha’s Uptown District is proposing a neighborhood grocery store and restaurant.

The project, a hybrid retail-residential complex on 63rd Street between 22nd and 23rd Avenues, will replace parts of the neighborhood destroyed in the August riots.

Representatives from Gorman & Co. and the Kenosha Area Business Alliance have been working with Abel Alejo and Yolanda Hernandez, proprietors of La Estrella Supermarket and The Uptown Restaurant, respectively, whose businesses were among those destroyed in the fires during the August riots that resulted from the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

According to the plans, which have yet to undergo city planning and committee review, the grocery store would more than double in size from the earlier site — 4,500 to 10,118 square feet. The restaurant, proposed at 2,577 square feet, would grow by nearly 900 square feet.

The Lofts anchors

Heather Wessling Grosz, vice president of the Kenosha Area Business Alliance, said the two businesses are the first anchor tenants announced for the mixed retail shops. They will be part of the $18 million Uptown Lofts, which includes a combined 107 apartment units in two buildings — a three-story building at 23rd Avenue and a four-story dwelling at 22nd Avenue.

Gorman & Company earlier this spring received $1.45 million in new housing tax credits through the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, which will allow the developer to provide housing to residents based on income.

The grocery store and restaurant would be part of the total 24,847 square feet of retail space on the street level of the two buildings, according to plans provided by KABA.

“We’ve been working with the city and with Gorman & Co. on a project on the west side of 22nd Avenue to replace some of the retail square footage that was lost in the fires that occurred,” she said. “Our collaborative approach is to try to retain and return the retailers that were already on the block when that happened.”

Larger space, more offerings

Wessling Grosz said the businesses are considered “key anchors” to the retail space.

The developer and the alliance have been collaborating with the two owners on a business plan that aims to help them rebuild.

During a visit to the site of their former businesses earlier this month, Alejo and Hernandez said they were optimistic about the opportunity to rebuild in Uptown with the support of the developer, the business alliance and the city. The two, who are close friends, had owned their respective businesses for the last six years until they were destroyed. Currently, Alejo is unemployed, but is assisting Hernandez and her husband with a temporary location for the restaurant.

“We are doubling the size (of the grocery store),” he said. “It’s a good feeling. I think the city and KABA understand this is a good project for this neighborhood because (Uptown residents) basically don’t have (anywhere) to get their produce. This was the only place where they could actually get it.”

Alejo said the grocery store would continue to offer Mexican foods, but would also have more options in offering fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, deli and hot foods. As before, the grocer would also continue to offer customers services for bill payment and money transfers, both nationally and internationally.

Wessling Grosz said that the need for more grocery existed after the former Pick ‘n Save, a 55,000-square-foot supermarket in the Brass area to the southeast of Uptown, closed four years ago.

The La Estrella grocery store, which operated on a 4,500 square foot footprint on that block, started to sell some of the produce and meats that had been unavailable in the immediate area. “They were starting to have a pretty strong business on that block because of the density of that neighborhood,” Wessling Grosz said. “And, it’s actually a more walkable location than the (former) Pick ‘n Save, more accessible.”

AWG potential supplier

Wessling Grosz said the grocery store’s business plan and layout has been presented to Associated Wholesale Grocers, a company with a sizeable presence in Kenosha. AWG with its 700,000-plus square-foot warehouse at 60th Street, south of Highway H, employs about 500 to 600 people.

“We’ve presented the business plan and the layout to Associated … and they’re looking to help establish and potentially furnish the inventory for this store,” she said. “They’re reviewing the layout and the furnishings to see if they can help them refine their plan.”

KABA is also working with bankers and “potentially the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation to see if we can attract some loans and some corporate support for the project,” she said.

AWG assisted with KABA’s feasibility study initiated last fall to explore the viability of a larger grocery store in the Uptown area, but not necessarily one that would match the size of the former Pick ‘n Save, she said.

Wessling Grosz said Alejo and Hernandez aren’t the only ones the alliance is looking to assist.

“I think our approach is whomever was on that block, if there’s new development, we’d like to encourage and find ways to support their return to the 22nd Avenue block,” Wessling Grosz said. She noted that the block was close to 100 percent occupied before the riots.

Alejo and Hernandez said they hope to hear from the developer next month as to the type of financing that would help them rebuild. Wessling-Grosz said Gorman & Co. is currently working on the “financial stack” while due diligence review of the land is under way.

“So there’s a current contract to take over the site on west 22nd Avenue. Once it closes, it would take about a year for the development to be built,” he said.

Under current plans, the grocery store and the restaurant would be situated next door to each other. When they were operating, the grocery store was at 6200 22nd Ave., while the restaurant was located at 6134 22nd Avenue, a storefront away. In between them had been Uptown Beauty and Variety, at 6136 22nd Ave.

Work could start by fall

Ted Matkom, Gorman’s Wisconsin Market president, said he expects plans to go before the city’s Plan Commission next month. Wessling Grosz said that the goal is to have the grocery store and restaurant rebuilt by next year. Alejo said he’s hopeful razing and ground breaking of the shopping center destroyed in the riots will occur this fall.

Matkom said the two businesses were chosen because they had been in the their locations prior to the riots. He said La Estrella Supermarket and the Uptown Restaurant are “essential businesses to recreate that sense of Uptown community again.”

“Also, both tenants have been partners with us from day one to design their new space that is bested suited for their needs,” he said.

“Our hope is to include Abel and Yolanda, and there’s potential for other businesses to be included in the future,” Wessling Grosz said.

Read more at the Kenosha News.

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