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April 2014

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Downtown Oconomowoc 60-unit apartment plan shared

Worthington Apts. will be six levels, five above ground

City of Oconomowoc - Officials are hailing the downtown Worthington Apartments as a precedent in today's economy and development in the area,maybe even the state.

Officials shared specifics of the project Tuesday. They include a six-level building with five levels above ground. The building will stand 60 feet tall at its peak on Wisconsin Avenue. The residential development will include 60 apartments, a unique second-story courtyard, private fitness room, underground parking, clubhouse and more. The project value is currently estimated at $3 million.

With a history of sharp criticism from residents regarding building height in downtown developments, Mayor Jim Daley was asked to weigh in on the 60-foot apartment building.

"We need to look at the quality of the project and not define it solely in feet and inches. When you have an opportunity for a project with someone who wants to raise the standard ofdowntown, you should look at that," Daley said.

The mayor said the Worthington Apartments project fits architecturally with downtown and should bring more people to downtown. He added that the city was able to work with developer Bob Felker to offer him the site across from the new community center for the apartments in exchange for land he owns on Main Street. The city will expand the Village Green adjacent to Felker's former properties. Daley has previously said the expanded Village Green will provide a more adequate community gathering place for downtown events such as movie nights and the farmers market.

Felker plans to break ground in spring 2013 and complete the project by early 2014. The city is going to help with the costs to remove the existing buildings on the land and prepare the site. City Administrator Diane Gard and Daley explained that the city is doing that in exchange for the difference in value between the land Felker gave to the city in exchange for the city owned property on Worthington, which is about $150,000. That work will be done before the end of the year.

City Planner Adam Sayre said it's impressive that a developer is interested in a project in a downtown, especially in this economy.

"It's tough. There are not many communities our size doing something like this right now," Sayre said.

Officials also pointed out the Worthington Apartments development comes on the heels of two other residential developments in the city. The Preserve at Prairie Creek is a 204-unitapartment development. Sayre said Phase 2 of the project recently began, and the first phase is 90 percent occupied. The second project is the renovation of the former middle school into 55 one-, two- and three-bedroom loft-style apartments. The facility will also offer amenities that include garages, a fitness center, community room and Internet cafe.

The mayor hailed the new developments as something that will put the city on the map and make it a place people are drawn to.

"If there is any criticism, it would have to be that we are lucky to be paired with several intuitive developers that are creating quality projects," Daley said. "Development of the past has been more of a just-build mentality, without much thinking. These projects have not required much tinkering on the city's part because they are well done."

Daley added that while many municipalities are being reactive and cautious toward development in the shaky economy, the city has found ways to be proactive and work with developers.

"I truly feel Oconomowoc is in a very strong position moving forward," he said.

Worthington Apartments is slated to be discussed at a future Plan Commission meeting, and a developer's agreement is also expected to be discussed publicly in the coming months.

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