Central city housing development ready to move forward

The Legacy, a new housing development of 51 new single-family homes and at least 48 condominium town homes on vacant lots between North 21st and 24th streets, West Brown Street and West Garfield Avenue in Milwaukee’s central city, will start taking shape in the coming months.

The project is a partnership between Wauwatosa-based Irgens Development Partners LLC, Milwaukee-based Williams Development Corp. and Legacy Redevelopment Corp., which does business as Legacy Development Partners.

Legacy Redevelopment Corp. is a nonprofit loan fund owned by Legacy Bancorp, the parent company of Milwaukee-based Legacy Bank.

Late last week, the partners finalized their purchase of the first eight lots within the development area from the city of Milwaukee. Four model homes will be built on the lots, and homebuilders will use those homes as temporary sales offices, said Sally Peltz, president of Legacy Redevelopment Corp.

“After we build our four model homes, we can take on the next cluster (of lots),” Peltz said. “The city wants to see performance. When we have a number of homes built, we can do the next (cluster).”

Legacy Development Partners won’t be building the homes itself, said Gary Kautzer, vice president of Irgens who is working with Peltz on The Legacy. Instead, the firm will re-plat the lots it buys from the city and sell them to a group of four preferred homebuilders that will build the first homes in The Legacy.

The homebuilders are: City Ventures, owned by Paul Handl; GSI General Inc., owned by Ben Clark; Kuhs Quality Homes Inc., owned by Cindy Kuhs; and T.L. Reese Homes LLC, owned by Troy Reese.

Starting next week, homebuilders will be able to purchase lots from Legacy Development Partners, Kautzer said. Some homebuilders could break ground this month, while others may wait until spring to begin work on their model homes.

Because several of the homebuilders are smaller minority-owned businesses that do not have a substantial track record and credit history, Legacy Redevelopment Corp. has money in its loan fund to help the builders develop their model homes.

The Legacy will involve additional homebuilders as it proceeds, Peltz said, giving customers even more choices.

The Legacy is the first market-driven housing project in Milwaukee’s central city in many years, Peltz and Kautzer both said.

“We’ll option the lots to our builders, and they’ll sell their creativity to you – you will pick which one you want to work with,” she said. “For the first time ever, this will work like a normal market. Everything will be market-driven.”

Milwaukee officials have approved $3.2 million in tax incremental financing (TIF) for the neighborhood for infrastructure improvements.

Legacy Development Partners estimates that most homes in The Legacy will range from $180,000 to $250,000. The project is aimed at African-American middle class families, Peltz said.

“The idea is a social goal – to take back a neighborhood through home ownership,” Peltz said. “We want the people living there taking control of their neighborhoods.”

That goal fits in with Legacy Bank’s philosophy, said Dolores Sims, president and chief executive officer of the bank. Earlier in her banking career, she witnessed the demolition of many of the homes that used to stand there for a freeway that was never built.

“I saw the people that were displaced then and to be able to restore something near and dear to our community – it speaks volumes to be involved in it,” Sims said. “And because we (Legacy Bank) have the opportunity to be the bank of first choice, we can make sure that no sub-prime or predatory lending is going into the project.”

More to come

A vacant parcel between 21st and 23rd streets on the north side of Garfield Avenue where Legacy Development Partners plans its condo development is contaminated and must be cleaned up before redevelopment can proceed, Peltz said.

The City of Milwaukee has applied for a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources grant to fund the cleanup. If the city is awarded the grant this fall, it would begin cleanup work in the spring, said Andrea Rowe Richards, spokeswoman for the Department of City Development.

“As soon as it is remediated, we (Legacy Development Partners) will develop it ourselves,” Peltz said. “We will hire a homebuilder, and we will take the risk.”

The town home condos will have two to three bedrooms and will likely range in price from $150,000 to $200,000, Peltz and Kautzer said.

Williams Development Corp. and Irgens Development Partners are working with the owners of Lena’s Food Market to build a new 43,000-square-foot grocery store on North Avenue between North 24th and 25th streets, said William Orenstein, president of Williams Development Corp. The grocery store will be part of an 84,000-square-foot shopping center that Williams and Irgens want to build there, he said.

A $1.9 million TIF package has been approved for that development, but its plans are still being developed, both Orenstein and Kautzer said. No tenants have signed leases for the project yet, but Kautzer said the project has letters of intent from a clothing store and a sporting goods store. Irgens and Williams have earmarked parcels on the site for restaurant and other retail uses.

“We haven’t started to promote (the site) and we haven’t finished the financing for the center, we’ve already had some interest from retailers,” Orenstein said.

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