Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Should City Buy 500 Acres in Racine County?

Council resolution would order city to study buying land for Foxconn City.

By - Dec 23rd, 2017 03:26 pm
Foxconn Site Plan. Image from SEWRPC.

Foxconn Site Plan. Image from SEWRPC.

The idea of Milwaukee developing a satellite city near the proposed Foxconn campus in southern Racine County continues to inch forward. Alderman Bob Bauman first floated the idea at a meeting of the Public Works Committee earlier this month. The alderman has now authored a directive for the Department of City Development to investigate the possibility of purchasing 500 contiguous acres in the town of Yorkville.

Yorkville is an attractive destination for the city because it is just west of the Foxconn site, located across Interstate 94 in rural Racine County. Bauman wants the land as a way for the city to provide affordable housing for Foxconn workers. The 20 million square-foot facility is expected to employ up to 13,000 people, many of whom could come from Milwaukee’s most impoverished neighborhoods and would lack reliable transportation to the campus.

“Personally I would prefer the investment in transit to get our people there and back” says the alderman, but short of that he thinks the city should explore annexing the land to provide ready access to well-paying jobs for impoverished city residents. Should the annexation prove too complex, the city could still enter into a partnership through the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee with a private developer to construct affordable housing in the area and provide opportunity to current city residents. He says the city has a role to play because it’s unlikely Mt. Pleasant or Sturtevant are going to construct affordable housing.

At a hearing two weeks ago, assistant city attorney Jeremy McKenzie laid out six conditions that must be satisfied for the city to annex the land. “When I first got the assignment I thought there is probably no way to do this,” McKenzie told the Public Works Committee. But sure enough, there is, although it’s quite the difficult path.

  1. The land would have to be lying near, but not necessarily contiguous with the city.
  2. The land to be annexed must be owned by the city.
  3. The land must be in a town, and not a village, city or other incorporated entity.
  4. The town board must approve a resolution approving the annexation.
  5. The Racine County Board of Supervisors would need to approve the annexation.
  6. A boundary agreement governing the specific borders would need to be entered into by the city.

The land isn’t likely to be cheap. The Foxconn proposal, which occupies over 1,000 contiguous acres, sent land prices soaring in advance of its announcement. The company was reportedly offering $50,000 per acre to assemble the site, meaning the city’s purchase could cost $25 million. And while assembling a site that large in the city itself would certainly be more expensive, it would come with a number of infrastructure improvements including roads, water mains and sewer hookups. If the city buys the land they would be on the hook to build out that infrastructure.

Acquiring a 500 acre site would likely require the city to purchase multiple farms and adjoining properties. The average Wisconsin farm is 209 acres according to the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

The size of the site would dwarf a number of other large projects in Milwaukee. The biggest redevelopment project underway in the city, Century City, is taking place on a 60-acre site near N. 31st St. and W. Capitol Dr. The Menomonee Valley redevelopment included brownfield remediation of 300 acres.

The proposal is slated to go before the Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee before eventually going before the full Common Council.

For more background on the idea, including its historical precedent, see my coverage from December 13th “Could Milwaukee Build a Foxconn City?”

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5 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Should City Buy 500 Acres in Racine County?”

  1. mbradleyc says:

    This is a magnificently stupid idea.

  2. Ted Juerisson says:

    -Good intentions – Yes.
    -Not something the city of Milwaukee should be doing.
    -Best left to the private sector . Cost to Milwaukee taxpayers ?? $ 0 .

  3. MKE Kid says:

    April Fool’s Day!

    Oh, wait…

  4. Joe says:

    Here is a wonderful idea: City of Milwaukee, Racine County and Foxconn work together to establish a micro transportation authority that is a mix of public and private funds; helping get workers that do not have an automobile to the manufacturing campus.

    The notion that the City of Milwaukee should create a “satellite city” in Racine County is galactically stupid!

  5. Kevon says:

    What jobs? Foxconn announced plans last year to automate all of their Asian plants, where labor is cheap but they’re going to hire 13,000 high priced American labor here. Riiiight. They are already NOT creating jobs here with their announcement this month of plans to use driverless shuttle vans on campus. Pay attention Mr. Bauman.

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