When Greenfield Mayor Michael Neitzke was first elected in 2005, he had already heard plenty of excuses from developers about why more ambitious developments wouldn’t work in the small suburban city just southwest of Milwaukee.
Carrying an iPad to meetings, he highlighted potential redevelopment sites to any Milwaukee-area developer he spoke to. But he didn’t get many bites, until that is, he sat on a board with Scott Yauck, president and chief executive officer of Milwaukee-based development firm Cobalt Partners.
That was back in 2014, Neitzke recently recalled, and the site Yauck took interest in was a sprawling area northwest of South 84th Street and West Layton Avenue.
Nine years later, the 48-acre mixed-use development – dubbed 84South – includes a bevy of retail spaces and restaurants, including Fresh Thyme, Ulta, Kohl’s, Total Wine & More, a 267-unit apartment development and an Aurora Health Care ambulatory surgery and health center.
The site will also soon be home to two new Lowlands Group restaurants, a Café Hollander and a brand-new concept called The Feisty Loon.
But back in 2014, the site was a mismatched patchwork of users and owners.
It was Yauck and partners, like apartment developer Fiduciary Real Estate Development, that had the patience, perseverance and open mindedness to make the project a reality, Neitzke said.
“Redevelopment is always much more difficult than development,” Neitzke said. “Most developers don’t like the heartburn and the headaches associated with property acquisitions and complicated financing, and the whole pallet of challenges. And most of the ones that are willing to do those things aren’t going to look at Greenfield as a place to do them. Scott was one of the first people that actually looked at the demographics closely.”
It's that tenacity, Nietzke said, that has led the city to partner with Yauck on other high-profile projects, like the 38-acre Loomis Crossing redevelopment at I-894 and West Loomis Road; the 273-unit townhome-style apartment development it’s doing with Joseph Property Development near South 92nd Street and West Cold Spring Road; and the potential redevelopment of the 23.8-acre Spring Mall shopping center at 4200 S. 76th St.
Yauck says he keeps coming back to Greenfield to do the complicated work such redevelopment projects require because Nietzke and city staff are eager to work with him to push the projects forward. The fact that there’s plenty of properties in Greenfield ripe for redevelopment – like the nearly vacant Spring Mall – also make the projects prime candidates for tax incremental financing, Yauck said.
When Cobalt Partners first began compiling properties for 84South, the 48-acre site’s entire taxable property value was roughly $8 million. Today, the development site is worth $215 million.
“It was a similar situation at Loomis Crossing. It gives you a lot of room to create value, which allows tax incremental financing to really work,” Yauck said. “When we set out to do 84South, we were committed to creating $107 million of incremental tax base, and we are at $215 million now. We have doubled what we committed to.”
Having grown up just a few blocks east of Greenfield, on Milwaukee’s far southwest side, Yauck said he also knew enough about the area not to discount it.
“I think the market is a bit underserved. People tend to look to other areas, but that southwest part of the city is a good market,” Yauck said. “The mayor is working really hard to reposition the city. He has really created a main street of sorts along Layton Avenue. Loomis Crossing is at the east end of Layton, and our 84South is really the bookend at the west end. The Portillo’s at 84South was the second Portillo’s in the state. That really says something about the market, as well as the fact that nobody has left the 84South development.”
For Nietzke, the goal is simply to make Greenfield a better place and to deliver amenities that will add to the things that already make the community attractive to families, like good schools, strong public services and a close proximity to Milwaukee.
“My goal is to make this city a better place, and I have learned that the way to do that is to make the places here better,” he said. “Everything now is about maximizing the value of the property. The parking lot isn’t the focus of our developments. Parking fields that lay vacant and create stormwater issues nine months out of the year – that’s not where it’s at anymore.”
Yauck recognized the fact that Greenfield is a great community, Nietzke said, and the mayor continues to be heartened by Cobalt Partners’ continued investment in the city.
“These are complicated projects that create a lot of headaches, but they have been enormously successful by any metric,” Nietzke said. “The city was always branded with this penny-pinching, dollar-foolish moniker with haphazard development and crappy roads, and we have managed to transform it from that.”