Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 10:56 am
When Milwaukee developer Joshua Jeffers shifted gears from residential to office on his planned nine-story office building in downtown Milwaukee, it wasn’t because he felt the multi-family market was softening.
In fact, Jeffers and his company, J. Jeffers & Co., are still bullish on multi-family. But over the past year, there has been a lot of interest from office tenants in the site for the development, at 503-507 N. Broadway, Jeffers said.
Jeffers is pursing the Milwaukee office of law firm Husch Blackwell LLP, which is in the market for between 60,000 and 65,000 square feet of office space when its lease expires at Cathedral Place, 555 E. Wells St., in November 2020.
He is also in discussions with a 42,000-square-foot office tenant and two other prospective tenants, which would each lease 15,000 to 20,000 square feet.
Even without the Husch Blackwell deal, the project could be completed because there is a lot of interest in the building, Jeffers said.
“I wanted to make sure that we could build the building that we wanted before really going after tenants,” Jeffers said. “And now that we have that, it is really full steam ahead.”
On Oct. 1, the yet-to-be-named project received conceptual approval from the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.
The building requires approval from the commission because it is located in the East Side Commercial Historic District.
Jeffers purchased the site in January from Uihlein Properties LLC for $825,000, with plans to build an eight-story, mixed-use residential building with 108 apartments.
In September, he submitted plans to the city for a nine-story office building instead. The project includes one-and-a-half stories of retail space, totaling about 10,000 square feet on the first floor, and four stories of parking hidden within the building totaling 190 spaces.
The remaining five floors are for office space, totaling about 103,000 square feet.
Jeffers said the building he wants to build is one that will respect the historical landmarks on the block without being a reproduction.
The project is located on the downtown Milwaukee streetcar line between the Mackie and Button Block buildings, at the northwest corner of North Broadway and East Clybourn Street.
Working with Engberg Anderson Architects, Jeffers said he has designed a building that complements two of his other projects – the restoration of the Mackie and Mitchell buildings – with a masonry panel made of Northern Ohio grade sandstone.
The stone is found in only a handful of quarries across the country and it is expensive, Jeffers said, but it is the same stone on the exterior of the Mackie Building, 225 E. Michigan St., and the Mitchell Building, 207 E. Michigan St.
“We can get (the stone) and incorporate it into the building’s design,” Jeffers said. “This building has to compete with three iconic buildings, but we don’t want it to compete head-to-head.”
The Mitchell and Mackie buildings were developed in 1876 and 1879, respectively, by Alexander Mitchell, a Milwaukee banker who served in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Mitchell Building is one of only six buildings left in the United States that is an example of Second Empire architecture, Jeffers said. The style became popular between 1895 and 1900 through the redevelopment of Paris under Napoleon III’s Second Empire.
Other examples of Second Empire architecture include Philadelphia’s City Hall building and the Old Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C.
“When I say there is nothing like the Mitchell Building, it is almost literally true,” Jeffers said. “There is so much iconic architecture on this block. I want the new building to reference this history, but not compete with it.”
The third iconic building on the block is the historic Button Block Building at the northeast corner of North Water and East Clybourn streets that was sold to Kenosha-based Bear Development LLC in 2014, and converted into a Homewood Suites hotel last year.
Jeffers plans to complete the new building in 2020. He has created a glass curtain along the south side that will jut out, reminding people this is a modern office development.
“We in no way, shape or form want to be a historical reproduction,” Jeffers said. “We are a modern 2020 building. It is something that has to balance these two competing concepts of modern design and architectural history, and I think we’ve done that.”