American Family bringing 400 jobs to Mandel building in downtown Milwaukee

Company plans to add 150 positions and relocate Pewaukee office

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American Family Insurance Group has selected the Mandel building as the location for its new downtown Milwaukee office, the Madison-based insurance company announced Thursday.

The building will be renovated and expanded in order to house 400 employees.

The 110-year-old building is located near the northwest corner of West McKinley Avenue and North Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, in the city’s Haymarket neighborhood.

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A company spokeswoman said detailed planning work will start immediately, with construction expected to begin in 6 months to a year once an architect is hired. American Family expects the work to take 2-3 years.

Once completed, about between 200 and 250 employees, mostly in claims, will relocate to the building from American Family’s current Pewaukee office. Kari Grasee, American Family vice president of business and workplace services, said the company will sell its Pewaukee office building, which it owns, once employees move to the new downtown Milwaukee office. The Pewaukee building is just under 80,000 square feet, she said.

American Family will also create 150 new positions within the company to be based at the downtown Milwaukee building. Those new employees will work in functions such as technology and data science, community investments and partnerships, and sales and agent recruitment.

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The office building will also contain a public space called DreamBank, which will host community events and have staff and resources to help people pursue their personal aspirations.

Grasee said in an interview that specific project details, such as overall cost, won’t be known until after the detailed planning work commences.

However, the company is considering adding floors to the five-story building. This will provide American Family with more office space.

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The project will also likely take advantage of Opportunity Zone program, a federal program created in 2017 by lawmakers to encourage investment in projects located in distressed areas. The Mandel building is located in a designated Opportunity Zone.

Beyond that program, American Family is not looking at other incentives options such as city tax increment financing, Grasee said.

In a news release, Justin Cruz, American Family vice president of inclusive excellence, said the company is looking at ways it can attract and retain a diverse and tech-savvy workforce. He said this especially includes those of the millennial generation who want to live in an urban setting.

“Our goal is to have the work and activities in the building be as innovative and inspirational as the building itself,” Cruz said.

In fact, American Family selected the Mandel building because it determined its location to be the best for attracting talent and collaborating with the community, said Grasee.

Grasee also cited the building’s location in a developing business district, its easy access to public transportation, and its solid structure and its historic architectural character.

American Family will enter a joint venture with MB Acquisition LLC to redevelop the building. MB Acquisition is the owner of the building, and is operated by Milwaukee-based Van Buren Management Inc. president Joel Lee and vice president Daniel Lee.

American Family will pay for the renovation and expansion work. Once the work is completed, the company will lease the building with an option to either purchase it or extend its lease after 10 years.

“The site and neighborhood have the potential to be something exceptional, and the renovation of this building can also be a driver for other companies to develop here,” Joel Lee said in the release.

The Mandel building, located at 1319 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, was constructed in 1909 and totals 93,750 square feet, according to city records. It has an assessed value of $2.27 million.

It was originally built in 1909 for the Phoenix Hosiery company, which manufactured silk stockings and hosiery. Mandel Graphics Solutions had been located in the building from the 1940s until 2011, when it decided to move to the former W.H. Brady Co. building in Glendale.

The building is located in a budding part of downtown, west of the Milwaukee River. It is immediately north the Milwaukee Bucks’ Deer District, an eight-acre development area centered around the Fiserv Forum.

Also west of the river but south of the Deer District are renovated office buildings such as HUB640, the redeveloped former Boston Store building, and the former Henry Reuss Federal Plaza building, now called 310W, that is undergoing $30 million in renovations.

Then there’s the former Grand Avenue mall, which is being turned into a mixed-use development called The Avenue. The project includes new office space, a first-floor food hall and apartments.

“(Downtown Milwaukee) west of the river is really undergoing a revitalization, and we want to be a part of it,” Grasee said.

American Family has been expanding its presence in Milwaukee beyond its search of a new downtown office.

The company also has purchased the naming rights to Miller Park, a 15-year deal that begins in 2021. It has a partnership with Summerfest music festival to support arts in music in Milwaukee — in fact, the amphitheater at the lakefront festival grounds that bears the company’s name is undergoing a $50 million face lift. The company also put $1 million toward supporting UW-Milwaukee’s new Lubar Entrepreneurship Center.

American Family is a Fortune 500 company and is the nation’s 13th-largest property/casualty insurance group. It sells auto, homeowners, life, business and farm/ranch insurance, primarily through exclusive independent contractor agents in 19 states.

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