Arts community fueling more development on Milwaukee’s south side

The rehabilitation of vacant sites on Milwaukee’s south side is continuing with plans for a new community theater and a microbrewery in Bay View and a new art gallery that will open in Walker’s Point later this month.

Gib Bathrick, chief executive officer of Alton Enterprises LLC, plans to build a theater capable of seating 100 to 200 people in The Hide House, a rehab project at the former J. Greenebaum Tanning Co. site, 2625 S. Greeley St., in a Bay View residential neighborhood.
Bathrick also is negotiating with a downtown Milwaukee-based microbrewer who is growing and needs more space.
Meanwhile, Terie Leicht and Tim Day will open the Red Car Art Gallery at 907 S. 1st St. in the Walker’s Point neighborhood April 25.
The new developments are further testaments of the momentum spilling south from Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward.
As Small Business Times reported April 4, the Port of Milwaukee is awash in redevelopment plans, with a proposed $1.5 billion commercial project that may include 14 new office towers and plans for a new hotel, new condominiums and a high-speed ferry service.
The Hide House and the Red Car Art Gallery projects are being fueled by the south side’s burgeoning arts community, Bathrick said.
In fact, many of the same artists who have opened studio and gallery space in The Hide House formerly were located in the Third Ward and were pushed further south into Bay View because they were priced out of their locations in the Third Ward, Bathrick said.
"There was this huge gap forming. The Third Ward had been a haven for the arts, but a lot of those buildings have been ‘repurposed,’ and they’re too expensive now," Bathrick said.
"Timing is everything, and with the increased number of urban living options bringing people back to the city, the arts community in the city of Milwaukee is both thriving and energetic," Day said. "Milwaukee is now close on the heels of cities like Providence, R.I., Cleveland and Minneapolis in taking an urban setting and making the arts community an integral part of their urban development."
Bathrick bought the former Greenebaum tannery in 2001 for $950,000. He obtained a $243,400 brownfield redevelopment grant from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce and used that money to put a new roof on the structure, which is classic Milwaukee — cream city brick and large, rustic timbers.
"I thought this tannery had great ‘bones.’ The ‘bones’ of the building are great, the basic mechanicals are good, and the brick and the wood floors were solid," Bathrick said. "It was a diamond coated with a covering of nasty carbon."
Bathrick is applying for a facade grant from the City of Milwaukee and a brownfield redevelopment grant from Milwaukee County.
Bathrick’s company was launched by his father, Alton Bathrick, a retired executive vice president of Robert W. Baird & Co., who is now working as a venture capitalist.
The Hide House is now available to artists for monthly rental space as affordable as $3.50 per square foot.
Word about the "cool" Hide House has spread quickly throughout the south side arts community. Visual artists such as Shelby Keefe and Nathan Page are now renting space, and book-artist Robin Kinney and mosaic artist Dawn Gibbs, both whom hold down day jobs in the production department at The Business Journal, also recently opened space in the former tannery.
"I was totally turned on, because I love old warehouses, although I had to use my imagination here at first," Keefe said. "The idea of being in an old building and being with other artists really turned me on."
"It’s just the coolest building. I just feel it’s an important space for the city," said Kinney, who is opening the Third Space Book Arts Gallery in The Hide House. "When you’re in there, you get so locked in (to creating art)."
Down the hall, musical bands use space at The Hide House for rehearsals.
Bathrick’s plans at The Hide House include a $750,000 community theater. The 8,000-square-foot theater will accommodate drama, music and community events.
Commercial businesses also are finding customized space in the sprawling 230,000-square-foot Hide House.
A Milwaukee microbrewer, whom Bathrick declined to identify, has outgrown his downtown space and is considering opening an additional facility in The Hide House.
In the meantime, the tannery’s old vault is loaded with toilet paper and cleaning supplies.
"Someday, I’d like there to be money in there," Bathrick said. "That definitely is a goal, but there are thousands of ways to make money. We want to do something to give back to the community. If we wanted to just make money, we could have ‘condoed’ it.
"I just want to help all the artists down here, so I want to keep rents as reasonable as we can."

April 18, 2003 Small Business Times,Milwaukee, By Steve Jagler, of SBT

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