Downtown Boston Store building sold to Chicago firm

Bon-Ton HQ and Boston Lofts apartments also occupy structure

Bon-Ton will liquidate.

Last updated on July 12th, 2022 at 03:34 pm

North Wells Capital, the investment management affiliate of Chicago-based Urban Innovations Ltd., announced that it has purchased the Boston Store building in downtown Milwaukee from Wispark LLC for $25 million.

The 122-year-old, 428,652-square-foot building, located at 331 W. Wisconsin Ave., includes the downtown Milwaukee Boston Store, a corporate headquarters office for The Bon-Ton Stores Inc. (the parent company of Boston Store) and the Boston Lofts apartments.

The building has an assessed value of $20.3 million, according to city records.

“We’re excited about the acquisition of 331 West Wisconsin because it is both a continuation of the Urban Innovations operating model and our first acquisition in Milwaukee, a market we’re really enthusiastic about,” said Howard R. Conant Jr., President of Urban Innovations.

Boston Store has occupied the building for nearly 100 years. The retail store occupies 123,434 square feet on the first and second floors, and Bon-Ton’s corporate headquarters occupies 170,358 square feet of office space on floors 3 through 5.

Boston Lofts, a 74-unit apartment complex, totals 134,860 square feet on floors 6 through 9, plus 56,785 square feet devoted to a 129-stall underground parking garage. The Mandel Group will continue to manage the Boston Lofts.

Jerry Franke - Wispark
Jerry Franke

Wispark is a subsidiary of Milwaukee-based WEC Energy Group. Jerry Franke, the president of Wispark, plans to retire on June 15. WEC Energy will transition out of the commercial real estate development business, but Wispark will continue to manage commercial real estate assets.

“North Wells Capital and Urban Innovations are committed to the long term success of this property. Their purchase secures hundreds of corporate jobs, prime retail space, and popular downtown apartments. It’s a win for West Wisconsin Avenue and Milwaukee,” said Franke.

Bon-Ton has not turned an annual profit since 2010 and the downtown Boston Store, part of the Shops of Grand Avenue, has struggled with low sales for years. To help keep the store and the corporate headquarters downtown, the Milwaukee Common Council earlier this year approved a deal to provide $1.9 million in city funds to Bon-Ton to keep the Boston Store and the Bon-Ton corporate offices in the building through 2028. The deal keeps 750 jobs in downtown Milwaukee, according to a city document on the deal.

It was not the first time the city provided a subsidy for Bon-Ton and the Boston Store. In 2014 the city and Bon-Ton reached an agreement in which the city would provide $300,000 a year for four years to keep the store and corporate headquarters downtown.

Patrick Gallagher of CBRE brokered the deal for Wispark.

Urban Innovations will provide property management services for the building including leasing and construction.

The acquisition of the downtown Milwaukee Boston Store building increases Urban Innovation’s owned portfolio by more than 70 percent, bringing its total to 10 properties of nearly 1,030,000 square feet, according to the company.

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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