As a number of significant developments that promise to reshape West Allis are making strides, community leaders are actively working to reshape its public perception.
The timing of the two couldn’t be better for the city.
West Allis officials last year launched an official rebranding, part of a longstanding effort to change public perceptions of the city being an old industrial town with not much to offer.
Jonathan Matte, communications director with the City of West Allis, said this campaign relies on talking points such as strong neighborhoods, good schools, unique restaurant offerings and, of course, the major ongoing real estate developments.
The list of projects includes Milwaukee-based Cobalt Partners LLC’s roughly $100 million West Quarter development along South 70th Street, which will transform 23 acres into mixed uses, including 300,000 square feet of offices, 18,000 square feet of retail, a hotel, residential and an educational component.
The first portion to break ground this year will be the five-story, 128-room Home2 Suites by Hilton hotel. Planned office buildings will be developed once enough demand for the space is there, said Scott Yauck, president and chief executive officer of Cobalt.
Beyond West Quarter is the $65 million Six Points project, which includes land to the north and south of the intersection of South 66th Street and West National Avenue. Milwaukee-based Mandel Group Inc. was selected in 2016 as the project developer as the result of a competitive request-for-proposals process.
Six Points focuses more on residential and food-based commercial uses. This plays in well with the West Allis Farmers Market site next door, southeast of the intersection of 66th Street and National Avenue, said Ian Martin, Mandel Group’s vice president of development.
Building activity began in 2017 with the construction of a 30,000-square-foot Aurora medical office and clinic building near the corner of West Greenfield Avenue and South 66th Street. The second phase, which is under construction, will consist of 177 upscale apartments and food-based amenities.
Mandel Group later this year will also turn its attention to the parcel south of West National Avenue, across 66th Street from the farmers market. This will be another mixed-use building with 40 to 50 apartments and 10,000 to 15,000 square feet of ground-level commercial space, likely to be used as a coffee shop and restaurant space.
The remaining developable land could be used for a roughly 5,000-square-foot standalone restaurant, as well as a large event area, which would provide even more space for potential food and beverage purveyors, Martin said.
West Allis has several positive attributes that make it attractive for developers. For instance, Yauck said the area around his development offers a nice base to build onto, such as the Summit Place office park to the east. There are good existing amenities along West Greenfield Avenue to the south, he added.
Gone are the days of the demand for sprawling suburban campuses where employees have to drive somewhere to grab something to eat. What these more urban-style suburban developments offer office tenants is the associated conveniences of a mixed-use environment with a more affordable price point, said Lyle Landowski, chief operating officer with Colliers International’s Milwaukee office.
“I think Scott Yauck has a great track record in these kinds of developments,” Landowski said. “Secondly, I think West Allis has a great track record with these kinds of developments.”
Specifically, he pointed out the success Summit Place has had in bringing in all types of employers.
A similar argument can be made about new housing developments.
“What we really like about West Allis is it gives us an opportunity … to deliver a housing product that’s every bit as nice, if not nicer, than what you would find in downtown (Milwaukee) at a price point that’s much more approachable for the majority of renters in this market,” Martin said.
John Stibal, director of development for the City of West Allis, said the city also benefits from its proximity to both downtown and the Waukesha County suburbs.
“It is halfway to everywhere,” he quipped.
Stibal said that as part of the city’s rebranding campaign, officials stress all that West Allis has to offer. Thanks to recent and ongoing developments, they can boast about quality office and residential offerings cheaper than other nearby communities.
“Those are the economic incentives that people will pay attention to,” he said.