City seeks development for long-vacant 4th & Wisconsin site

Project could help fund streetcar line extension

The city will seek RFPs to develop the parking lot at 4th and Wisconsin.

Last updated on May 15th, 2019 at 05:02 pm

City of Milwaukee officials hope to finally attract development to a long vacant site at a key location on Wisconsin Avenue downtown.

The city will seek RFPs to develop the parking lot at 4th and Wisconsin.
The city will seek RFPs to develop the parking lot at 4th and Wisconsin.

The site is the parking lot at Fourth Street and Wisconsin Avenue next to the Shops of Grand Avenue and across the street from the Wisconsin Center. The property is owned by the city.

Proceeds from the property sale and tax revenue from the development would help pay for a proposed extension of the downtown streetcar line north to the site of the Milwaukee Bucks arena.

The city plans to issue a request for proposal this month for the 2-acre site south of Wisconsin Avenue between 4th and 5th streets.

The decision to issue the RFP for the site is a result of multiple inquiries from local and out-of-state developers who are interested in the property for a mix of uses including residential, office and a hotel, said Rocky Marcoux, commissioner of the department of city development.

“We want to see good design, an activation of the space, retail on Wisconsin Avenue and a public presence at the streetcar stop,” Marcoux said. “And after that, we want to let the creative community put their own eyes on this. Obviously it’s surrounded by a substantial amount of significant development in scale, so we would like to see something match the existing environment.”

The RFP will likely close in September; however, the city will have the option to roll it over if officials are not satisfied with the quality of applications.

Marcoux said the RFP will include an asking price based on the appraisal of the land available for public use. He declined to disclose the price.

The streetcar line extension would pass the site. If a developer wants to incorporate the streetcar into the development, like the Couture project is doing on the east side of downtown Milwaukee, that is also a possibility, Marcoux said.

“The public plaza created with the streetcar is also an important component as well,” he said. “This is an ability to do something unique. Assuming the county moves forward with its bus rapid transit proposal, linking the Couture to the county grounds, this could be a good stop as well.”

If the parking lot sells, the money could be used to help pay for the streetcar extension, Marcoux said. In April, the city applied for a $20 million federal grant to extend the streetcar line approximately 1.2 miles to the new Milwaukee Bucks arena.

The new line would run between the Milwaukee Intermodal Station on St. Paul Avenue north to Fourth Street and Highland Avenue.

If the grant is awarded, the city will have to match it with $20 million in local funds, which Marcoux said could be paid for with $8 million from a new tax incremental financing district created for the 4th and Wisconsin project, $8 million by amending the Time Warner/Manpower TIF district and $4 million by extending the Hilton/City Center TIF district.

Previous attempts to develop the 4th and Wisconsin site have been unsuccessful.

In 2004, Hunzinger Construction Co. purchased the land for $1 and planned to build a $32 million, 255-room Sheraton Hotel on the property. That project never moved forward.

About a year later, Charlotte, N.C.-based developer Ghazi Co. proposed a mixed-use development with a condominium tower, a hotel, restaurants, retail and entertainment space. But Ghazi wanted a significant amount of TIF money and the project never materialized, Marcoux said.

No significant developments have been publicly proposed for the site since the Great Recession.

With downtown Milwaukee in the middle of a development boom, city officials hope the time is right to finally attract a major development to the key site.

“It’s a great site, no doubt about it,” Marcoux said. “There is great energy now in that portion of Westown. This is the right time to put forward a development at 4th and Wisconsin.”

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