Delinquent industrial land on Lake Michigan's shore is transformed into HarborPark, a vibrant mixed-use community connected by streetcar to downtown Kenosha, Wis., and via Metra to Chicago. By Christina B. Farnsworth

What was once home to and then abandoned by Simmons Mattress Co., American Motors, and other industrial manufacturers has gone from eyesore to asset. But it hasn't been easy.

HarborPark's community brochure sums it up: "A promise kept. A dream come true." In 1989, transforming Kenosha's abandoned lakeside brownfields into anything seemed a distant dream. Kenosha began a two-year planning process to realize the dream begun with the 1836 Public Land Trust that reserved lakeshore for public and civic use. In 1991, Southport Marina became the first element completed as part of the Kenosha Downtown Plan--"A Guide for Urban Design and Development." In 1994, the city bought the ravaged 42-acre industrial property for $1.

In 1996, a site investigation found lead, petroleum products, and abandoned underground storage tanks that had damaged the soil and threatened contamination of groundwater and Lake Michigan. Also, in 1996 a panel from the Urban Land Institute (ULI) came to Kenosha to jump-start the development with an intense, week-long planning session. "ULI gave us the framework," says Kenosha's Mayor John M. Antaramian. We opened the planning process to the public, he says. We taped everything and ran it on cable television for close to a year.

The brownfields had to be cleaned up. Though the original landowners shared in cleanup costs, the town of 87,314 had to find redevelopment money, which it did by creating a Tax Increment Finance District to raise $18.5 million. Kenosha was also the recipient of one of the first federal brownfield grants to be issued to Wisconsin.

Photo: Paul Schlismann Photography

Townhomes include a two-car garage tucked under the homes with an unfinished lower level. All feature front porches and often multiple decks. HarborPark now comprises 69 acres along the shore of Lake Michigan. The site plan orients streets in a grid pattern with each street terminating with water views to Kenosha Harbor, Simmons Island, Southport Marina, and a lighthouse. On a clear day, Antaramian says, you can see Chicago's skyline 50 miles away. Housing hugs the streets, and parking hides behind attached housing in garages and small parking lots. There are four housing products starting with $83,000 studios that are affordable pied- -terres for those with a love for lakeside living or for those mooring boats in the marina. For affluent move-down buyers who want full-time lakeside living, Marina Condominiums have the best unobstructed views. The largest of these single-level units starts at $499,900.

New England Builders is building all of the homes. (The company was one of 10 builders who responded to Kenosha's request for proposal.) The builder/city partnership went into effect in 1997. The Skokie, Ill. based firm has made its reputation building for the New Homes for Chicago program. The firm works with the city of Chicago to build housing for families making up to 120 percent of the median income, as well as for teachers, police, and other city workers, often priced out of the market but who need to live in the city.

Photo: Paul Schlismann Photography

The largest of the condominiums at 2,995 square feet start at $499,900 and showcase a sweeping semi-circular balcony off the living room.

Chris Rintz, executive vice president, and his wife and company president, Kathy Rintz, founded New England Builders 13 years ago. The firm is comfortable working with city agencies. Their desire is to leave a "legacy of social and physical change." Unlike many other builders, New England Homes keeps some of its trades on staff carpenters, painters, and laborers. The firm typically generates $20 million annually, building about 140 housing units a year. Rintz says Kenosha liked the firm's ability to partner. Tom Humes, executive vice president of the Chicago-based architectural firm Solomon Cordwell Buenz and Associates designed the four housing types. The firm has a long venerable history in designing attached housing. One of its best-known projects is the award-winning Carl Sandburg Village, which includes high-rise elevator buildings and low-rise townhomes.

Humes describes HarborPark's site as an almost idyllic setting. He tried to take advantage of that in the design by giving every unit one or more balconies, patios, or terraces from which to enjoy the resort-like setting. The Park Residences are affordable units ranging from a 544-square-foot studio for $83,900 to a 1,298-square-foot, two-bedroom condominium for $170,000 in three-story elevator buildings.

Photo: Paul Schlismann Photography

The 1,792-square-foot Braddock unit features two floors of living space. The other three plans, ranging from 1,594 to 2,270 square feet, offer three floors of living space. All have one-and-a-half-car garages.

The Villas are either two or three stories with an attached one- and one-half car garage, ranging in size from 1,594 to 2,270 square feet and from $151,000 to $234,000 in price. Townhomes range from 1,460 to 2,000 square feet in size and from $190,000 to $265,000 in price. These include a two-car garage and an unfinished area in a lower level. Most spectacular are the Marina Condominiums, single-level living in a three-story, elevator building. These range from 1,768 to 2,995 square feet and sell from $250,000 to more than $500,000 with options. Though all the housing types feature balconies or terraces, the sweeping rotunda terrace off the living room of the 2,995-square-foot condominium is definitely the most luxurious with primo views of the lake and marina.

As for community amenities, there is HarborWalk--the seven-acre, 3,000-foot linear promenade and park along the waterfront-bike paths, and the 12-acre Celebration Park designed as Kenosha's festival and outdoor concert location. The natural history museum, designed to look as if a glacier slashed it, pays homage to the ice that covered the area 10,000 years ago. Pike Creek Plaza, anchoring Second Avenue, will include shops, restaurants, a farmers market, and an ice rink for all of Kenosha to enjoy.

Photo: Paul Schlismann Photography

Streetcars link HarborPark with downtown Kenosha and the Metra station. One of the really special features of the pedestrian-oriented community is its streetcar system. In a sense it is a restoration of what was a major mode of transportation in Kenosha from 1902 to 1932. Five electric streetcars, each restored in the colors of the old systems that ran through Chicago, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Toronto, run a two-mile route. For 25 cents, commuters travel along 17 stops connecting HarborPark to Kenosha's downtown (just four blocks away) and to the Metra (commuter railway) station. Kenosha may be in Wisconsin, but it is only an hour and 15 minutes from Chicago, a fact that has not escaped 60 percent of buyers, who are originally from Chicago, many of whom still commute to the Chicago metro area. Also not surprising are the 25 percent of buyers who own boats. The majority of buyers are primary residents, but there is a nice-size minority of buyers who are second-home owners. HarborPark logged a discernable increase in sales after September 11 by buyers who told sales associates that they were seeking a serene and safer haven away from the central city.

Project: HarborPark, Kenosha, Wis.; Project size: 69 acres; Units planned: 254 condominiums and townhouses; Unit size: four product types, 544-square-foot studios to 2,995-square-feet condominiums; Price: $83,900 to $500,000 plus; Sales started: July 2000; Sales through May 2002: 162; Developers: city of Kenosha and New England Builders, Skokie, Ill.; Builder: New England Builders; Architect: Solomon Cordwell Buenz, Chicago; Interior merchandiser: Sindy Scholze, Eleni Interiors, Naperville, Ill.