Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:28 pm
GE Healthcare’s decision to locate a new office building for 2,000 employees in its information technology, ultrasound and e-business divisions represents a a huge boost for one U.S. Highway 45 community and a missed opportunity for another.
Company officials chose Wauwatosa for the 475,000-square-foot office building over several other sites, including Menomonee Falls, located about 10 miles north on Highway 45.
GE Healthcare’s presence in the Milwaukee County Research Park, combined with the Medical College of Wisconsin and Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital nearby, could attract other high-tech companies to Wauwatosa.
"It’s such a great synergy between GE and the medical complex," said Nancy Welch, director of community development for Wauwatosa. "We are looking for the spin-off."
Already, Wauwatosa Mayor Theresa Estness said, another business wants to put a technical training school in the former Empire Level Manufacturing Corp. building near the GE site. She declined to identify the business, as the plans are ongoing.
"I would anticipate (GE) will speed along a lot of the development in the research park," said John Czarnecki, vice president of Apex Commercial. "People are going to be attracted to the research park."
Meanwhile, Menomonee Falls, which lost in the bidding to keep the GE Healthcare jobs in its village, are waiting to see what will happen to embattled Strong Capital Management, which is being investigated by federal regulators for alleged illegal trading practices. Strong is now for sale.
Czarnecki said the uncertainty of Strong’s future and the fate of its plush headquarters complex may be hurting the nearby commercial real estate market.
"Anytime you put a question mark on a building, it just makes people nervous," he said.
However, Bruce Behling, president of Heritage Reserve Holding LLC, said he sees no indication that the Strong uncertainly is affecting real estate development in the area. A 28-acre housing and retail development by Weas Development Co. and a senior housing and medical clinic development, both on land owned by Heritage Reserve near the Woodland Prime Business Park just west of Highway 45, are moving forward, Behling said.
"There’s a fair amount of activity going on, on our front," Behling said. "Our plans haven’t changed. I haven’t seen anybody putting their plans on hold."
Wauwatosa’s location near the Zoo Interchange of Interstate 94 and Highway 45 makes it an attractive location for businesses, such as GE Healthcare.
"It’s the old adage, location is everything," Estness said. "It’s easy to get (from Wauwatosa) to downtown, Madison, Chicago and the airport."
Mayfair Mall in Wauwatosa is planning to build a 100,000-square-foot addition with several new stores, including Crate & Barrel and the Cheesecake Factory.
"When we talk to people, their ideal location is to be at the Zoo interchange," said James Barry III, president of James T. Barry Co., the Milwaukee affiliate of Colliers International Property Consultants. "It’s really the center of our transportation system. I think that has a lot to do with the success of Mayfair. People have access from all directions to that retail hub."
Large properties near Highway 45 that have been abandoned, or will soon be abandoned, will provide some unique development opportunities for Wauwatosa.
Roundy’s Inc. plans to move out of its Wauwatosa distribution center along Highway 45 to a new facility the company plans to build in the Pabst Farms development in Oconomowoc.
The Roundy’s warehouse in Wauwatosa and an adjacent distribution center that was closed by Kohl’s create a combined 70-acre site along Highway 45 with significant redevelopment potential, city officials say.
The distribution centers could be leveled and replaced with a mixture of high-end office, retail and housing developments.
"We’re sorry to lose (the distribution centers), but in a way we’re smiling," said Nancy Welch, Wauwatosa’s community development director. "We think with the right development, we can triple the tax base (from the properties). I’ve had many developers calling."
On the west side of Highway 45, Briggs & Stratton sold 22 acres of its property to Continental Properties Co. for retail development. Continental Properties vice president Steve Wagner declined to comment for this report.
In February, Wauwatosa placed a one-year moratorium on big-box retail development, which could be extended. Estness said she does not want to see big-box stores in the city’s key redevelopment areas, including the Roundy’s, Kohl’s and Briggs & Stratton sites.
Instead, she wants to see smaller, higher-end stores and restaurants.
Wauwatosa officials are waiting for the Milwaukee County Board to take action on a plan for about 60 acres designated for economic development in the Milwaukee County Grounds. City officials want to see environmentally sensitive development that blends in with the surroundings.
"It’s a fantastic location," Welch said. "We’ve been getting calls from all kinds of local developers and national developers."
Development near Highway 45 and Mayfair Road, 124th Street and Burleigh Street in Wauwatosa should be substantial in the next few years, Barry said.
"That’s really one of the hottest corridors in town," he said. "If you own a building there, its value is going to appreciate substantially."
"For a land-locked community like Wauwatosa which is about 95% developed, it is a tremendous opportunity," Estness said. "It’s great to be here."
Other communities along Highway 45 also continue to see development near the freeway.
A Home Depot store is being built just east of Highway 45 on Paradise Drive in West Bend, joining several other stores on the street.
"Paradise Drive has become a major destination (for shoppers from) Hartford, West Bend and the Kewaskum area," Czarnecki said.
Highway 45 has attracted two major medical developments in Washington County. St. Joseph’s Community Hospital of West Bend is being built on Pleasant Valley Road near Highway 45. Aurora Health Care plans to build a clinic in Jackson on Highway 45, about two miles south of the St. Joseph’s Hospital.
Jackson is planning to extend sewer and water utilities to Highway 45 to attract development. The village is also planning to establish a telecommunications utility to attract high-tech businesses.
A Wisconsin Department of Transportation project to widen Highway 45 from two to four lanes between West Bend and Kewaskum could attract more development to that area. The road widening will be completed later this year.
To the south, where Highway 45 leaves the freeway system, Menard’s is building a store near Highway 45 on the former site of the Hales Corners Speedway in Franklin, and Wal-Mart wants to build a Supercenter store where Highway 45 merges with Highway 36.
The proposed Wal-Mart has been opposed by many Franklin residents, and in February, the city placed a six-month moratorium on development in the area.
The only cloud hanging over the Highway 45 corridor are the vacancies at the Park Place towers on Milwaukee’s far Northwest side and the uncertainly of Strong Funds.
The Park Place towers should eventually come back as the area’s office market grows, Barry said.
Some businesses are showing interest in properties surrounding the Park Place towers.
Liberty Property Trust, which owns 11 buildings in Park Place but not the two towers, recently completed construction on a 90,000 square-foot building anchored by eFunds. Liberty’s Park Place buildings have 533,000 square feet of space, about 17,000 square feet of which is vacant. Liberty also has 40 acres of land available in the business park.
"Park Place is really defined as a suburban office park with a Milwaukee address on a freeway interchange," said Rory Dunn, senior leasing representative for Liberty Property Trust.
Liberty has built another office building and a retail building in the last three years, Dunn said.
"Liberty Realty Trust has done very well up there," Barry said.
The addition of the Bergstrom Hummer and Chevrolet dealerships nearby have helped raise the profile of the area, Dunn said.
"We’re very optimistic with regard to this area," he said. "We believe Park Place is regarded now as a strong in-fill site. (Businesses) are only willing to go so far west."
Highway 45 commercial real estate development
¥ GE Healthcare
¥ Mayfair Mall planning expansion
¥ Vacant Roundy’s and Kohl’s distribution center redevelopment
¥ Portion of Briggs & Stratton to be redeveloped for retail
¥ County Grounds development
¥ Woodland Prime Corporate Park
¥ Park Place
¥ Auto dealerships
¥ Proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter
¥ Home Depot
¥ St. Joseph’s Community Hospital of West Bend
¥ Aurora Health Care clinic
May 14, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI