The entranceway of the former Pabst Brewing Co.’s bottling house has barrel-vaulted ceilings with alternating rows of Cream City and Chicago brick. Looking up, you are immediately transported to another place in time.
Wood dating back to the structure’s 1889 construction remains throughout the massive 250,000-square-foot-building, including the triangular support beams unique to the property.
Continuing your journey through the maze of Cream City brick walls and original staircases leads you to the third floor, where floor-to-ceiling windows overlook downtown Milwaukee.
It’s hard to imagine that by August 2016, this building, once lined with conveyor belts filling empty glass bottles with Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, will be transformed into a $45 million student residence hall.
But Michael Kelly, executive vice president at Blue Ribbon Management, who has spent the last several years working on Eleven25 at Pabst, assures me it can be done.
“The size and scope of this project is different than anything in Milwaukee and maybe anything nationally,” Kelly said.
Milwaukee’s newest student apartments, at 1125 N. Ninth St., will feature 440 beds in 151 units on three floors in a mix of one- to four-bedroom apartments.
Originally envisioned as an apartment complex for international students, developers realized the need for high-end student housing is in high enough demand to open it up to all students.
Mike Mervis, a consultant with Blue Ribbon Management, believes 80 to 90 percent of residents at Eleven25 will be domestic students from Marquette University, Milwaukee School of Engineering, Milwaukee Area Technical College and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
UWM’s School of Public Health and the Cardinal Stritch City Center, which includes several of the school’s College of Education and Leadership programs, are both located in The Brewery Project, the neighborhood created by the redevelopment of the former Pabst brewery.
“The design will be modern and the rooms will be equipped with the latest technology, but everything around you will be a preservation of history,” Mervis said, adding that almost 90 percent of the materials in Eleven25 are repurposed from the original structure. “That’s why we’re an attractive option. It’s not just a brand new building; we’re rich in history.”
Jim Shields, design principal at HGA, is the architect on the project. Shields has worked on numerous projects including the Milwaukee Art Museum expansion and renovation project, the Harley Davidson Museum and Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin.
The apartments will be market-rate, ranging in price from $600 to $1,500 – per bed. Rooms are fully furnished and include 24/7 security and a residence life program.
Two 5,000-square-foot atriums are being built on the first floor, and first floor apartments will have patio doors opening up to the space. Additional community space includes a 24-hour fitness center, video game lounge and movie theater.
At the front of the building, 12,000 square feet of retail space will include a coffee shop, a convenience store and a five-stall food court.
“We’re going to find a mix that will satisfy virtually every taste,” Kelly said. “We’re trying to put a lot of neighborhood services in that are not currently in The Brewery.”
Pabst, founded in 1844, shut down the Milwaukee brewery in 1996. The company is now based in Los Angeles and currently outsources the production of its beers.
Pabst has more than 30 beers in its portfolio, including Pabst, Schlitz, Old Milwaukee, Old Style, Stroh’s and Blatz.
After Pabst closed its Milwaukee operation, the brewery remained vacant until Zilber Ltd. founder Joseph Zilber acquired it in 2006 and began a redevelopment project to transform the former brewery into a mixed-use neighborhood.
Several of the buildings have been sold to other developers for redevelopment projects. Kelly’s group, Blue Ribbon Management, has been tied to several projects in the complex.
The firm built the Pabst Professional Center, a new office building with 42,000 square feet of leasable office space. With the announcement in September that Klement Sausage would move its corporate offices from Bay View to the professional center, the building is now at 75 percent occupancy. TCF Bank and Logicalis, an IT consulting firm, have also leased space in the building.
Blue Ribbon Management is also redeveloping the former First German Methodist Church building located at the southeast corner of West Juneau Avenue and North 11th Street for Pabst Brewing Co. The project hit a bump in September, when Nomad World Pub owner and Lowlands Group co-founder Mike Eitel pulled out of the project. Eitel was going to run the bar and restaurant portion of the development.
At the time, Mervis said Pabst might have an interest in taking over that part of the project. Kelly and Mervis said there would be an announcement soon on that property.
But for now, the focus is the massive former bottling building and what it will become as it is transformed into Eleven25.
The $45 million redevelopment is being financed through historic preservation tax credits and the federal EB-5 program, which allows foreign nationals who make investments that create jobs in the United States to obtain green cards.
“Without the tax credits, this project and many other projects in The Brewery just don’t get done. We’ve been very fortunate that the State of Wisconsin has retained (that program),” Kelly said. “This is a significant investment, but we think it is going to pay off, obviously in the long run, but even in the short run.”
When Blue Ribbon Management began developing the student apartment building, the Milwaukee Bucks had not yet announced its plans to build a $500 million arena and entertainment district in the Park East Corridor. Now with the arena plans approved, the timing could not be better to attract students to The Brewery.
“We’re in a good position,” Mervis said. “This is a great architectural value, but it’s also a great economic value for the students, and look at the location. You’re on top of the schools, you’re on top of downtown. You’re on top of the Bucks.”