MUSKEGO - A plan for a Fleet Farm store on the city's northwestern edge has rolled ahead with city approval and a $1.7 million land sale.
Survey workers are staking a 15-acre parcel at College and Racine avenues this week as the expected yearlong construction project begins in the days ahead for the 47-store chain's newest location.
Since a wetland delineation report in January originally hinted at Fleet Farm's aspirations for a store in Muskego, the plan has taken a more definitive shape, including one surprise.
The store won't be nearly as large as relatively recent Fleet Farm stores, including the one that opened in Oconomowoc in 2018. According to documents presented to the city's plan commission on March 1, the Muskego store will total 137,455 square feet of space, about two-thirds the size of the Oconomowoc location, as measured from exterior walls.
Regardless, both the city and Fleet Farm officials see the development as a major step forward from their respective standpoints.
"As far as development opportunities go, I think this could be a catalyst for the area as a whole," said Adam Trzebiatowski, Muskego's planning manager. "We think this project will be a great thing for the city of Muskego, the residents of the city and the region/area as a whole."
Frank Steeves, executive vice president of Fleet Farm Group LLC, was heartened by the feedback he received from area residents, including during public hearings and private messages, about their enthusiasm for the arrival of the store, currently projected for spring 2023.
"We think we are going to be supported locally quite a bit, at least based on what we hear from community members that have written us or called us," Steeves said Wednesday. "We have lots of random, unsolicited comments that are positive from community members who want to see us come in and fill a gap in the market."
The project will include a store, gas station and car wash
While the interior layout of the store, and how it will differ from larger-format stores, was not publicly discussed during the city approval process, documents and Fleet Farm officials offered a glimpse.
During discussions with planning commissioners, Fleet Farm acknowledged the smaller size, noting the format will benefit from having a distribution center close enough to allow inventory to be delivered as needed instead of storing it on site.
In a follow-up interview, Steeves said the decision for a smaller store, which still consists of more than 100,000 square feet of sales-floor space, was based on the limited developable land along a wetland area and on market considerations for the specific site location.
Still, store officials are confident that space will contain all the inventory of the Oconomowoc store — which, he noted, is Fleet Farm's largest format.
According to its website, the Appleton-based chain's largest stores sell outdoor products, farm supplies, auto parts, work and family clothing, pet products, groceries and home improvement items, among other categories. The chain is also known for its seasonal Toyland department from October through December.
"Kind of all the things that you kind of need around a house or just recreationally," Steeves said.
The site will also include a roughly 60,000-square-foot outdoor materials yard.
Trzebiatowski said Fleet Farm's plan for the main store fits the general business district zoning already in place for that segment of the city just south of Interstate 43. But an accessory gas station and car wash required a separate conditional-use permit. That permit was granted April 7.
According to the building, site and operations plan — the package that was formally approved by the plan commission in March — the store and gas station will operate from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays.
Certain details remain fuzzy. Store officials are working with Waukesha County officials about access from Racine and College avenues, both county roads. Steeves said the store anticipates entrances off both with a design that wraps parking lot traffic away from the roadways.
And supply-chain issues that continue to plague the construction industry could have an impact on the exact opening date of the Muskego store, he added.
But a major component — the acquisition of the 15-acre site — has been finalized, Steeves said. According to state Department of Revenue data, the sale of the land from College Square Development Group of Waukesha to Fleet Farm Group for $1.7 million was recorded on April 15.
The new store is expected to spur other development
From the city's perspective, the store's location is a key piece in economic development.
Trzebiatowski acknowledged that Muskego itself doesn't have a lot of developable vacant land near Racine and College avenues, a neighborhood that is close to the border with the city of New Berlin. But that doesn't mean developers, who are not as concerned with jurisdiction, won't be interested.
"There are a few properties in Muskego to the south and southwest that could develop/redevelop due to this project," Trzebiatowski said. "The city of New Berlin could also see further development occur as part of this project."
In fact, the open space in New Berlin could prove important, he added. "They have more land that is vacant and/or has redevelopment potential to the west and north," Trzebiatowski said.
Steeves acknowledged Fleet Farm had studied other sites south of Waukesha as it strategized for a new store. In the end, the chain settled on the Muskego site as the best.
It helped that the development proposal itself was met by enthusiastic support from the city's mayor, Rick Petfalski, and city staff.
"Muskego, the mayor and his staff have been really great to work with. Very professional in every respect, and really as professional as we have ever seen working with communities," Steeve said. "Obviously, they have to protect the interests of their community, and we think they've done that."
Fleet Farm has a long history in Wisconsin
Fleet Farm, as it is now officially called, more likely is still remembered as Mills Fleet Farm, which carried the name of its founder until 2018.
Stewart C. Mills Sr. began what would eventually become the current 47-store chain as Mills Companies in Brainerd, Minnesota, in 1922. But the company really established itself as a retail fixture in Wisconsin, with the opening of what was originally called Fleet Wholesale Supply, in 1955 in Marshfield.
Before opening larger-format stores in the decades ahead, the chain included smaller-format stores of roughly 25,000 square feet in rural areas. Among the remaining oldest and smallest locations is in Clintonville — where, Steeves said, Fleet Farm remains ingrained in the community.
Mills Fleet Farm was sold to the private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts in 2016.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Fleet Farm coming to Muskego in 2023 with smaller store