Former downtown Grafton bank and post office building again ready for commerce

Think Design LLC owner moving in his business, leasing excess space to tenants

1238 12th Ave., Grafton
1238 12th Ave., Grafton

Last updated on November 15th, 2021 at 02:25 pm

Josh Wadzinski said the former bank and post office building in downtown Grafton was about six months away from being a total loss before he purchased it in 2019.

“The masonry was getting so bad, parts of the structure were starting to collapse,” he said.

Now, about two years later, Wadzinski is approaching the finish line with his meticulous redevelopment of the building, located at 1238 12th Ave. He plans to move his design business into the building, and lease out the space he isn’t using to commercial tenants.

The building has different sections that were built over time. The original cream city brick piece dates back to 1909, Wadzinski said. In 1926, Grafton State Bank outgrew that space and constructed the portion facing 12th Avenue. It leased out the original bank location to the Grafton Post Office. The post office eventually moved out as the bank took over both spaces and built a third phase in the 1940s, he said.

The bank moved out by approximately the late ’90s or early 2000s, he said. The building sat vacant from 2009-19 “and really became an eyesore for the community.”

Wadzinski, who is founder and lead design architect of Think Design LLC, said the building totals around 5,000 square feet of occupiable space. His business will occupy a portion of that space, leaving about 3,600 square feet is available for lease. It has three separate suites, each with its own entrance, restroom and kitchenette.

Wadzinski started Think Design about nine years ago. He started by working out of his house. But he has plans to grow the company and add employees.

About six years into his business, Wadzinski began looking for an old building to rehabilitate and use as an office. He looked for buildings anywhere between downtown Milwaukee and Grafton.

His firm has built a specialty in historic rehabilitation. This project certainly fit the description, which was intentional, he said.

“It got into the vision of my company, (and) the majority of the work we actually perform for our clients,” Wadzinski said. “We do a lot of what we consider boutique architecture projects, both commercial and residential. And we do a lot of remodeling projects, historic projects and a lot of sustainability. The idea was to find a building that could capture all those ideas.”

Construction work started just a few weeks before COVID-19 spread throughout the U.S. in spring 2020. The pandemic provided some benefit, Wadzinski said, in that the downtown area was a ghost town as crews performed exterior work. This made the work safer and easier to do.

But work had to stop for weeks at a time due to a couple outbreaks. Then building materials became more expensive, and harder to get. He said it took four months to get cabinets, and six months for doors. Plumbing work suffered lengthy delays while waiting for materials to arrive.

“When supply chains started breaking, at first it was more of an inconvenience than anything,” Wadzinski said. “But then it started getting serious, because everything on the construction side has a chain reaction. If you’re missing something, it affects another trade.”

Wadzinski said he self-performed the finished carpentry. This was something he originally planned to do, then decided to hire someone else because he became so busy with other work. However, he could not find a contractor to do it, which he attributes to the labor shortage. He brought in his father, a retired master carpenter, to help.

The project put Think Design in a position to grow. Wadzinski said he alone can handle a $1 million to $5 million project. With the space to grow and ability to hire more workers, he plans to take on projects that are $5 million and up.

“This was always the intent, and financially it just made sense after about five or six years of business,” he said.

Wadzinski also used this experience as a springboard to start his own development company, JTW Development LLC.

“So, this becomes collateral and a precedent for future projects,” he said.

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Alex Zank, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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