Central City Revival

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 11:00 am

After decades of urban decay and crime problems, a portion of Milwaukee’s central city just northwest of downtown is beginning to rebound as several residential projects are under development, and many more are proposed. Slowly but surely, retail and office projects also are sprouting up in the neighborhood.

The area, generally bordered by West Walnut and Hadley streets and North 12th and 38th streets, is home to some of Milwaukee’s oldest residential and commercial buildings.

Until recently, developers have generally been hesitant to pursue projects there.

Milwaukee Alderman and Common Council President Willie Hines, who represents the near northwest side area where most of the development is occurring, said there are many more opportunities for development or redevelopment, even amid some blighted conditions.

"There are a significant number of projects starting to positively affect the area," Hines said. "There has been tremendous growth and development."

Now that residential development has started to gather some steam in the near northwest side, retail and office development is likely to follow, Hines said. Indeed, some retail developments are proposed for the area, and more are likely to crop up.

"Once you’ve stabilized the residential component of a neighborhood, a natural fit is to offer services," Hines said. "There are revenue streams, and there are dollars and money to be made in the urban environments in metro areas. If you can see beyond some of the decay, central city residents need quality housing, they need places to shop and to eat and take their services."

Ground will be broken next week on two model homes in the Josey Heights subdivision, which calls for 53 new single family homes to be built between North 12th through 14th streets and West Lloyd and Brown streets. The parcel where the homes are being built is currently vacant – it was cleared of homes and businesses in the late 1960s to make room for the Park West Freeway, which was never built.

Two new city streets need to be developed for the subdivision, South 13th Street and West Harmon Street. Work on those streets is scheduled to start in March and should be completed by May or early June.

Josey Heights is being developed by Gaurie and Jeff Rodman, a husband-and-wife team who operate Coach House Development Partners LLC. Gaurie Rodman said the area’s close proximity to downtown and the city’s recent work in the Lindsay Heights neighborhood, which has seen 130 homes redeveloped between 12th and 20th streets and West Walnut and Locust streets, make the area perfect for residential development.

"This is one of the most promising neighborhoods in terms of development in the city," Rodman said. "It’s a revitalization of a neighborhood. The (profit) margins are relatively slim, but it’s a one-of-a-kind opportunity to do something different."

The development is being done with private dollars, but there is a small tax incremental financing (TIF) district in the area for public utilities, Rodman said.

The new homes will cost between $220,900 and $258,400. Those prices will include the lot and landscaping work, and all homes will include appliances. All of the homes are modular, which allows for construction to be done in a short period of time.

Contractors will be using new construction techniques that allow them to build foundations for the homes in two days, Rodman said. This technique, paired with modular homes, should allow most homes to be delivered in between eight and 10 weeks after residents purchase their lots.

"We’re trying to get some people moved in by May," she said.

George Calaway, a sales agent with Shorewest Realtors and one of the principals with the Josey Heights development, has lived in the neighborhood for a long time.

"It’s always been my intention to help the neighborhood grow, to help bring it back to what it once was – a vibrant community," Calaway said.

Almost 60 people have inquired about purchasing homes in the Josey Heights subdivision so far, Calaway said, and demand will likely greatly increase once the model homes are completed.

Farther west, Madison-based Gorman & Co. is planning to build 50 new single family homes in vacant lots between existing homes between North 27th through 38th streets and West Center Street and West North Avenue. For 15 years after the homes are built, they will be rented. After 15 years, the homes will be sold to long-term residents at prices below fair-market value, said Tom Capp, executive vice president of Gorman & Co.

The homes will vary between two and four bedrooms, Capp said, and will be built on in a variety of different styles that should fit in with the architectural styles of existing homes in the neighborhood.

Gorman & Co.’s total investment in the area is estimated at about $9 million.

Similar programs have been used on a smaller scale in parts of Wisconsin and other states, Capp said. The program is designed to both redevelop an area with many vacant lots and to build homeowner skills in residents, many who have not owned homes before. Residents in the area will be able to take seminars on the basics of home maintenance, Capp said.

"That will allow us to work with our resident base, offering the opportunities to teach financial skills and how to build their credit worthiness, the range of skills we want," he said. "As we get closer to the time when the units transfer to (private) ownership, the people who are in the units will invest in the value that’s built up in the home."

Families that purchase the homes after the 15-year rental period need not be renting the entire time, but need to be there for at least a few years, Capp said. Even people who stop renting the homes after a few years will have benefited from the program, he said.

"For the people who might be in the program in the early years, the added value is that the people are still learning the ownership skills and maybe move sooner to an ownership opportunity," Capp said.

Gorman & Co. is currently applying for federal Section 42 Housing Credits, which it will use to help fund the construction of the homes. That application should be complete in the next several weeks, Capp said.

The company hopes to begin construction on the new homes late this summer, after awarding construction bids.

Fond du Lac-based Commonwealth Development Corp. is planning a three story 49,000-square-foot mixed-use development at the northeast corner of West Fond du Lac Avenue and West Center Street. That project, tentatively named Fond du Lac Center, will have about 2,500 square feet of commercial space on the first floor and 24 two-bedroom apartments on the second and third floors, said Louie Lange III, president of Commonwealth Development Corp.

The development at Fond du Lac and Center Street will also have an enclosed parking garage, as well as a commercial façade on the front. Although Lange’s offices are currently in the City of Fond du Lac, he said he is thinking about moving his offices into the commercial space in Fond du Lace Center.

"These are affordable, and they give people housing options," Lange said.

Lange’s company is currently building New Village, a series of 24 two- and three-bedroom townhouses near the intersection of North 17th and West Center streets, which will be sold as condos after 15 years. Sixteen of the townhouses are new construction, and the rest are being converted from housing stock owned by Milwaukee’s housing authority, Lange said.

The company has received more than 150 applications to rent the 24 units. That interest made Lange want to do another project in the area, he said.

"One of the reasons I agreed to do the Fond du Lac and Center (project) was that people were showing me all the things that were potentially happening," Lange said. "I made a commitment to not have just one project happening by itself. The New Village project should be a catalytic project (for the area)."

Community Financial Service Center Corp., which operates 18 check cashing facilities in the metro area, including a store at 2623 N. Center St., just across from Lange’s proposed development, has been planning a retail development at the southeast corner of West Fond du Lac Avenue and West Center Street since 2003.

Karl Tatum, vice president of Community Financial and one of the principals of the project, said the group is waiting for city approval to begin construction of a 19,000-square-foot retail center, which would include about 1,500 square feet for one of Community Financial’s stores.

The rest of the space would be leased, Tatum said.

"We’ve had some interest from several types of businesses," he said. "We’d like to do a restaurant there. We’ve talked to a couple of franchises. It’s hard to do concrete talks because nothing is in stone yet. We did have someone propose a coffee shop, which we thought would be nice."

Tatum said his group also has talked with a discount retail chain that is interested in coming to the area.

Hines said the number of residential and commercial projects, both those underway and proposed, indicates that public perception about the area is changing, and that a brighter future may be in store.

"Habitat (for Humanity) started it in the 1970s, and now others are clearly recognizing the potential," Hines said. "The district is doing well. The constituents stuck it out, and now they will be able to be the beneficiaries of the new development."

Northwest Side Projects

  • Columbia Savings & Loan plans to build a new, 9,000-square-foot facility at 2000 W. Fond du Lac Ave.
  • Legacy Redevelopment Corp., Williams Development Corp., Irgens Development Partners and Uihlen Wilson Architects have plan to build 94 new single-family homes, 34 senior apartments and 15,000 square feet of retail space between West Garfield Avenue, West Lloyd, North 22nd and West Brown streets.
  • Way of the Cross Missionary Baptist Church, partnering with Chicago-based People’s Action Redevelopment Coalition, are planning to build 24 single-family homes between North Teutonia Avenue and West Hopkins Street.
  • Two model homes will be built soon in Josey Heights, a subdivision that will have 53 single-family homes between West Lloyd, N. 12th, N. 14th, and West Brown streets. This spring, new streets will built for the subdivision, and some residents will begin moving in.
  • Madison-based Gorman & Co. is planning to build 50 new single-family homes on vacant lots between North 27th, West Center, North 38th streets and West North Avenue. The homes will be leased for 15 years and then sold to families at rates greatly below market value.
  • Work is scheduled to begin this year for Toussaint Square, a mixed use project in the 3400 block of West North Avenue. The project calls for 22 apartments and 14,000 square feet of retail space.
  • Fond du Lac-based Commonwealth Development Corp. plans to build a three-story mixed use development at the northeast corner of West Fond du Lac Avenue and West Center Street. The proposal includes 24 two-bedroom apartments and 2,500 square feet of retail space.
  • Garfield Park Development is working to renovate a 95,000-square-foot four-floor former industrial building at North 31st Street and West North Avenue into retail space, apartments and condos.

Key Milwaukee County Projects

  • Milwaukee-based Zilber Ltd. of Milwaukee has an option to purchase the 24-acre former Pabst brewery property in downtown Milwaukee. Zilber has until mid-March to decide if it wants to go ahead with the purchase. If it does, Zilber plans to redevelop the brewery into a mixed-use neighborhood with housing, office space and retail space.
  • The $300 million expansion of Bayshore Mall in Glendale into Bayshore Town Center by Columbus, Ohio-based Steiner + Associates, is scheduled to be completed in November. Bayshore Town Center will have 1.2 million square feet of retail space (up from the current 500,000 square feet), 180,000 square feet of office space, 80 condominiums and 120 upscale apartments.
  • Manpower Inc. plans to move its corporate headquarters from Glendale to a proposed 280,000-square-foot building along the Milwaukee River and just south of the Schlitz Park office complex in downtown Milwaukee. The developer for the project, Gary Grunau, is seeking $25 million in assistance from the city, most in the form of tax incremental financing (TIF).
  • GE Healthcare this year will move into its $89 million, 506,000-square-foot office complex, development by Wauwatosa-based Irgens Development Partners, in the Milwaukee County Research Park. About 2,100 employees will work there.
  • The $59 million Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin project is expected to be completed this year. It will be a 120,000-square-foot interactive science and Great Lakes freshwater museum located just south of the Milwaukee Art Museum on the Lake Michigan shore.
  • Kendall Breunig, the owner of Sunset Investors, is working on a $35 million redevelopment project for the 265,000-square-foot former Hack Furniture building located at the southwest corner of North Plankinton Avenue and East St. Paul Street in downtown Milwaukee. Breunig hopes to create 100,000 to 120,000 square feet of commercial space and 83 residential units in the building. The plans include 40,000 square feet of retail space on the first floor, 68,000 square feet of office space and 25,000 square feet that could be used for residential or office space. He also plans to build a 275-vehicle parking garage on the west side of the building.
  • Work is expected to begin this year on the Harley-Davidson Museum. The 110,000-square-foot museum will be built on a 20-acre site in the Menomonee Valley.
  • Construction is expected to begin this year on a 199-room Embassy Suites hotel that will be developed in the Milwaukee County Research Park in Wauwatosa. The developer for the project is New Berlin-based Kaloti Enterprises Inc. The hotel is expected to open in 2007.
  • Oshkosh-based WHG Companies LLC plans to build a four-story, 120-room Comfort Suites hotel on a two acre site at 10831 W. Park Place Dr. on Milwaukee’s far northwest side.
  • Columbia St. Mary Hospital is in the midst of a $417 million project that will consolidate the Columbia and St. Mary’s hospitals on the east side of Milwaukee. The project will be completed in 2010. This year, a 53,000-square-foot Whole Foods store will open in the Prospect Medical Commons, which is a new medical office building under construction by Columbia St. Mary’s at the corner of Prospect and North Avenues.
  • Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare plans to build a 275,000-square-foot, $80 million outpatient center on a 55-acre site at the northwest corner of South 27th Street and Oakwood Road in Franklin. Construction is expected to begin this year and be completed in 2007.
  • The Medical College of Wisconsin and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin are building a $117 million, 300,000-square-foot research facility in Wauwatosa. The first phase is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
  • Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital in Wauwatosa is building a $120 million expansion which will include a 173,000-square-foot cancer center, 67,000 square feet of new clinical space, additional office space and an expanded emergency center. The project will be completed in 2007.

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

No posts to display