Developer Arthur Sawall is closing Monday afternoon with M&I Bank on his pending contract to purchase the former Mammoth Springs Cannery acreage at Hwy. 74 and Main Street in Sussex.
Successful development of the cannery site is fundamental to financing the proposals being eyed for downtown redevelopment, Village Administrator Jeremy Smith has said repeatedly.
That the closing is taking place now is indeed a surprise because — as Sawall confirmed to Sussex Patch in a lengthy interview — agreement has not yet been achieved with the state and federal governments to move the Bugline Recreational Trail to the eastern and/or southern edges of the 1o-acre parcel.
Trail relocation is vital to accomplishing Sawall's described housing and multi-use development plans, just as it was needed for similar plans once proposed by Bielinski Builders before it ran into management and financial trouble and surrendered the property to M&I.
Sawall envisions five buildings, either three or four stories high, comprised of roughly 135 units of "high-end housing." They would have underground parking. He envisions two retail and commercial-use buildings of either one or two stories each with easy-access surface parking filled with retail, offices and a coffee shop or restaurant.
Because the former Bugline Railroad provided drop-offs and pick-ups of railroad freight cars to the sprawling cannery factory, the rails ran essentially right through the center of the parcel, as does the Bugline Trail today.
But Sawall's ideas largely go nowhere without first getting government approval to relocate the trail to the south end of the property near the small lake that now has filled the abandoned quarry.
"Closing is typically not done on a development property until all the potential problems are resolved," said Smith, "but Mr. Sawall is not your typical developer."
Ski boots no, development property yes
During World War II Sawall's father was shipped off by the Nazis to Siberia. That's where Arthur was born to a family he says "was 100 percent German."
Suddenly in 1967 ,they had a chance to get out of Siberia. He was just 9 years old and didn't speak a word of English when his parents arrived in Brookfield to live for a few months with an uncle until his own family could find its way.
Sawall eventually became a successful software developer and laughs about how he learned of the Mammoth Springs development opportunity.
"Would you believe that I was on Craigslist looking for ski boots for my girls?," he asked. "I didn't find them, but I did find a lot in Brookfield that I liked for a multi-family property.
"I lost out on it," Sawall explained, "but then the Realtor said, 'well, if you want to look at it, M&I has this empty parcel of land in Sussex,' so I took 10 minutes and drove over."
"I love the property," Sawall said. "I thought to myself, this will be absolutely gorgeous when this old quarry is cleaned up and restored."
He continued: "With the Bugline Trail, the visible location at Main Street and Hwy. 74, the Sussex Creek being opened and reconstructed across the street, this could be something really special given the right architectural vision."
But the trail location "is a big problem right now. It could be a 1- to 2-year process just to get that resolved," Sawall said.
"In the best case scenario," Sawall said, "it's possible we could dig in spring of 2012, but it's much more likely to be fall of 2012 or spring of 2013," he said. "Unfortunately, there's a lot of red tape to overcome."