Development of former Gallun tannery site could resemble North End project

Mandel Group Inc.’s North End development, which now is beginning its third phase, is filling a significant gap along the Milwaukee River between downtown Milwaukee and the city’s Lower East Side neighborhood.

And now an Atlanta-based developer plans to fill another riverfront gap in the same area, with a development that would be similar to the North End project.

Atlantic Realty Partners, an Atlanta-based developer of luxury apartment buildings, recently purchased the 5.7-acre former Gallun tannery site at 1781 N. Water St. for $2.5 million. The site has 1,047 feet of frontage on the Milwaukee River.

The North End

“Obviously, we think it’s a great site,” said Richard Aaronson, president of Atlantic Realty Partners. “We think it’s a very good redevelopment opportunity.”

Similarly, the North End is being developed on a former riverfront tannery site at Water and Pleasant streets. Mandel Group purchased the eight-acre former Pfister & Vogel and U.S. Leather site in 2001. The firm has developed three buildings on the site with 238 apartments, about 17,000 square feet of retail space and a small park. Now the firm is beginning the third phase of the project, which will consist of 168 apartments and a 29,500-square-foot Fresh Thyme Farmers Market grocery store. Mandel Group recently announced that it has raised $53 million in financing for the third phase of the North End and would begin construction immediately.

Rendering of phase three of The North End

In addition, Mandel Group plans to begin the fourth and final phase of the North End project in 2015, which will have another 245 apartments. When complete the North End will have about 650 apartments, creating a neighborhood unto itself.

Details of the Atlantic Realty Partners project are still being formulated, but its development of the former Gallun tannery site will be similar to the North End, except it will have a lot less retail space, Aaronson said.

“There are a lot of other retail opportunities (in other buildings) that are very close to us,” he said.

The density of the Gallun Tannery project, which Atlantic Realty hopes to begin in the second quarter of next year, will be similar to the North End and other developments in the neighborhood, Aaronson said. Expect several mid-rise apartment buildings. The number of units is yet to be determined. The North End project will have 650 apartments on eight acres. At that density, the Gallun Tannery site would have about 463 apartments.

Like the North End, the Gallun tannery development will also be a multi-stage project of at least two, if not three phases, Aaronson said.

The project will also have a new riverwalk segment, which will tie into the marsupial bridge underneath the Holton Street Bridge and the swing park under the bridge, he said.

The former Gallun tannery property has a significant drop-off from street level to river level. Atlantic Realty plans to use the drop off for underground parking, allowing the first floor of the buildings to line up with street level, Aaronson said.

Like all former tannery sites, the former Gallun site had a significant amount of contamination. Most of that has been removed and Atlantic Realty is working with the state Department of Natural Resources to complete the remediation, Aaronson said.

“(The cleanup of the site) is not completely done, but it’s mostly done,” he said.

Several other apartment developments are either under construction or have been completed recently in the area. Wauwatosa-based Wangard is building Avenir, a 104-unit apartment building at the southwest corner of North Jefferson Street and East Lyon Street. Dermond Properties Investments built the 34-unit Avante building at the northwest corner of Pleasant and Jackson streets. Chicago-based Blackwatch ’68 built a 14-unit apartment development at 1530 N. Jackson St. Dominion Properties is nearing completion of a 20-unit apartment building at 1509 N. Jackson St.

In addition, Wangard plans to build a mixed-use development with about 150 apartments at the corner of Water and Brady streets and Opus Development Corp. and Mercy Housing Lakefront plan to build a mixed-use project with 190 apartments on a 2.3-acre site bounded by Water Street, Broadway, Ogden Avenue and Milwaukee Street.

The neighborhood is attracting all of this apartment development because of its proximity to downtown, Brady Street and the Lower East Side and the availability of numerous vacant sites, especially those along the Milwaukee River, said Mandel Group Chief Operating Officer Robert Monnat.

“It’s really kind of a prototypical neighborhood for urban housing development,” he said. “That area is going to really develop as one of the more densely populated areas near downtown.”

The apartment developments will help attract additional retailers to the area, Monnat said.

“You need the density to make neighborhood retail work,” he said.

Development in the neighborhood has also been helped by improvements at Schlitz Park, located across the river from the North End. A $34 million renovation project at Schlitz Park has been ongoing and several new tenants have moved in recently. The new and expanded tenants in the complex could bring nearly 800 additional employees to Schlitz Park this year. Some of those employees could choose to live in nearby apartments.

“Certainly having the jobs (at Schlitz Park helps fill nearby apartments) and having employment opportunities there for younger workers, the type of people that might choose to live downtown,” Monnat said.

The area near Water Street north of downtown has been one of the hottest development spots in the city in recent years as the North End and other projects have brought new vibrancy to the area and have started to fill the gap between downtown and the Lower East Side and Brady Street.

“I think you’re going to see that gap get filled pretty rapidly over the next couple of years,” Aaronson said.

Development on the Gallun site would add to the strong momentum in the area.

“We think (the Gallun site) is part of a great neighborhood that is only getting better,” Aaronson said.

Much of the development in the area has been made possible by the removal of the Park East freeway, which was torn down about 11 years ago. Development has been slow to materialize in the former freeway corridor, but projects like the North End and others in the area would not be possible if the freeway spur were still there, Monnat said.

“Who wants to live next to a freeway ramp?” he said.

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