City could help local group redevelop Shops of Grand Avenue

City of Milwaukee officials are considering plans to help a local group of civic and business leaders that plans to purchase and redevelop the Shops of Grand Avenue mall in downtown Milwaukee.

Ald. Robert Bauman, who represents the downtown area, this week introduced legislation that would “assist in the financing, acquisition, repurposing and redevelopment” of the mall.

The city has no plans to purchase the mall, but it could provide a loan guarantee or issue bonds backed by the city on behalf of the local group, known as WAM DC LLC (Wisconsin Avenue Milwaukee Development Corp.), said Richard “Rocky” Marcoux, commissioner of the Department of City Development.

WAM DC LLC is in negotiations to purchase the mall from its owner, a subsidiary of Bank of America investors. If it acquires the property, WAM DC plans to repurose the mall into a mix of uses that could include retail space, incubator office space, residences and an educational component.

“We believe the WAM DC group (is working on) a plan that we can back,” said Marcoux. “We believe WAM DC has some very good ideas about how to repurpose the mall. We want to be supportive of the WAM DC concept. We believe this will be successful. The city is positioning itself to make it clear that it supports WAM DC’s efforts.”

City officials have said for years that the struggling mall needs to be repurposed and incorporate different uses. WAM DC could finally make that happen.

“We believe this is an opportunity that should not be missed,” Marcoux said.

The city has already provided a significant amount of tax incremental financing for the mall and adjacent properties and does not intend to increase that amount, Marcoux said. The city wants to get the TIF funds that have been provided for the mall paid off, he said.

In addition, city officials want to see revitalization of West Wisconsin Avenue.

“The city’s main objective here is to restore viable retail on Wisconsin Avenue and to make the best possible use of the buildings between Fourth Street and the (Milwaukee) River,” Marcoux said.

WAM DC was created by a group of volunteers working to come up with a plan to revitalize West Wisconsin Avenue. The group’s plans to redevelop the Shops of Grand Avenue are central to that effort. The group includes Stephen Chernof of Godfrey & Kahn, developer Gary Grunau, Mandel Group Inc. chief operating officer Robert Monnat, Greater Milwaukee Committee President Julia Taylor, Marianne Lubar, Kahler Slater CEO George Meyer and developer Ron Sanfilippo.

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