DELAVAN — Big-box retailer Mills Fleet Farm is planning a new store in Walworth County as part of a blueprint for redeveloping the former site of the Geneva Lakes Kennel Club.
The owners of the former dog-racing track property in Delavan have unveiled plans to transform 200 acres along Interstate 43 with a mix of new commercial and residential development.
The first prospective tenant to come forward is Mills Fleet Farm, which is seeking city approval for a 218,653-square-foot store that would be even bigger than the usual Mills Fleet Farm outlet.
“It’s our latest prototype,” company vice president Tom Carrico said.
If plans are approved at Delavan City Hall, Mills Fleet Farm hopes to begin construction later this year and to open the new store in 2018, creating up to 200 full- and part-time jobs.
Delavan city leaders are voicing early support for the big-box retailer’s proposal, as well as the overall concept for bringing back to life the vacant former Geneva Lakes Kennel Club property.
The city Plan Commission is scheduled Oct. 9 to consider the development proposal.
City Administrator Denise Pieroni said officials are pleased to see new signs of activity at the spot where the dog-racing track closed more than 10 years ago. Pieroni said she expects Mills Fleet Farm would find a large customer base in the area, considering the site’s high-profile location at the intersection of I-43 and State Highway 50.
“It’s a prime piece of property,” she said. “We think it does have more of a regional draw.”
The Delavan City Council will make the final decision on the development proposal based on a plan commission recommendation.
Geneva Lakes Kennel Club opened in 1990 and presented greyhound racing for spectators until the track shut down in 2005. NRB Land Development Group, of McHenry, Illinois, then acquired the 130-acre racetrack property and 70 adjacent acres through two affiliated corporations for a combined estimated $14 million.
The old racetrack structures were demolished about three years ago, and the property has since stood dormant.
Last month, NRB Land presented Delavan city officials with a conceptual site plan for all 200 acres. The concept includes a proposed mix of retail and other commercial development, and commercial-residential components.
Andy Teegen, manager of NRB Land, said Mills Fleet Farm could be “the igniter” that entices other tenants to join the as-yet-unnamed development. Teegen explained that other prospects previously were hesitant to make the first move and assume some of the related infrastructure investments involved in building on the site.
Once Mills Fleet Farm gets the development under way, significant other activity could soon follow, Teegen said.
“The first domino has fallen,” he said. “Maybe it’ll lead to some other dominoes.”
The site for Mills Fleet Farm overlooks I-43 in an area that once was occupied by the dog-racing track’s parking lot. Covering about 28 acres, the proposal includes the retail store, parking for about 750 cars, and a small adjacent convenience store with a car wash.
After preliminary discussions began in July, Mills Fleet Farm submitted detailed plans to the city on Sept. 11.
Mark Wendorf, the city’s public works director, said although work is continuing on utility connections and other technical details, he has seen no major obstacles for Mills Fleet Farm. Wendorf said the big-box store fits well with the city’s plans for the area along I-43.
“That’s going to be a commercial area of some type,” he said.
Mills Fleet Farm, based in Appleton, currently operates 37 stores in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North Dakota.
The stores offer shoppers a diverse inventory that includes agricultural products, housewares, clothing and home-improvement items.
The largest outlets have been about 185,000 square feet, but the company plans next year to introduce a new, larger concept in five locations. In addition to Walworth County, sites have been identified in Oconomowoc, Eau Claire and Sioux City, Iowa.
Carrico said company officials are pleased to be part of the NRB Land redevelopment plan for the former dog-racing track. Early discussions with Delavan city officials, he added, have been encouraging.
“The city’s been great to work with,” he said. “It’s been a real great effort on everyone’s part.”