Sun Prairie Development: Prairie Lakes’ Ship will Hoist Two Anchors

The Gospel according to the economic development Gods says that an anchor store is vital to drive traffic to any shopping mall or commercial area, but Sun Prairie’s new Prairie Lakes commercial development will have two such traffic generators, and perhaps a third depending on how you count.

One anchor is already there; another fell into the developers’ laps, and the third would represent a regional draw that isn’t even part of the 100-acre development.

Prairie Lakes already features a 134,000-square-foot Target store, and sometime in the summer of 2011 it could be the home of a new, 16-screen Marcus movie theater complex.

When fully developed, the privately funded development will add between $150 million and $200 million in tax increment to the city, with Target and Marcus accounting for a combined $25 million to $30 million.

The importance of the project for Sun Prairie, one of Dane County’s fastest-growing communities, cannot be understated. As part of Sun Prairie’s West Side Neighborhood Plan, the city did not want a cookie-cutter approach to a development that would be situated along major roads, but they still wanted one that would appeal to every resident of Dane County.

“We had identified very early on that our west side was going to be our most critical development area,” said Neil Stechschulte, economic development coordinator for the city of Sun Prairie. “We’ve been very deliberate. It took us a considerable amount of money in terms of plans and infrastructure improvements to set up that whole area.”

The Marcus, which will include a 500-seat “ultra screen” theater, and three Cinedine (dining) theaters, will be part of Prairie Lakes after developing a snag in Madison, where it was to replace Marcus’ Eastgate Cinema.

“They [Target and Marcus] are good bookends for the project,” said Jerry Connery, president of Prairie Development, Ltd.

Connery’s development partner is Chad Fedler, vice president of Prairie Development, Ltd.

While their vision for Prairie Lakes’ goes beyond Target and Marcus, having twin anchors may help them avoid an uneven start like the kind experienced by Greenway Station, which initially was undermined by the lack of power stores that drive traffic.

While Costco has now improved the traffic at Greenway, the identity of the stores that will join Target and Marcus in the 890,000-square-foot Prairie Lakes is not yet known. There is room for three large-format retailers, up to eight junior box retailers in the 30,000-square-foot range, hotels, and restaurants ranging from fast-food to white table cloth.

Since developers have elected to use the site’s storage ponds as features, they will incorporate fountains visible from the outdoor seating areas of restaurants “where you can sit outdoors over water,” Fedler said. “We don’t know of any other place in Madison you can do that, other than the Edgewater.”

“Whatever goes in here, we want it to work for the overall development,” added Connery. “We’re going to sell pieces off, but we’re still going to have a big investment in this whole property. So all the parts and pieces need to work together, and hopefully we can accomplish that.”

Absence of Office

The retail-mixed use center will be developed on 110 acres along U.S. Highway 151 and State Highway C (Grand Avenue), just north of the American Center in Madison, which is Dane County’s largest business park. Proximity to American Center, where 6,000 people work, is the primary reason Prairie Lakes did not incorporate office buildings.

Prairie Lakes’ developers aren’t opposed to the idea, but given the suppressed state of the local commercial office market and the fact that American Center still has lots to develop, it’s probably a bad idea to make office a point of emphasis.

Fedler said Prairie Lakes’ developers tried to be complementary with respect to the American Center. He noted the Center has a high daytime population, that Sun Prairie has 27,000 people, and that Prairie Lakes is likely to draw people from the east side of Madison. Based on existing plans, housing density will only increase on Sun Prairie’s west side, but developers are looking to tap the more than 531,000 people who live within a 25-mile radius of the site.

“We’re seeing a lot of people from Waunakee at the Target,” said Connery. “It’s an easy drive down Highway 19, and from Beaver Dam, Columbus, and that whole [Highway] 151 corridor.”

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