Grand Avenue rebirth is nearly complete

    By the end of 2004, Joseph Weirick believes The Shops of Grand Avenue will be fully leased with retail tenants.
    That would be a remarkable recovery for downtown Milwaukee’s primary retail center and quite an accomplishment for Weirick, president of Polacheck Property Management Corp., the mall’s redevelopment company.
    "We expect by the end of this year, Grand Avenue will be a much different place for the holidays," said Weirick. "We plan to have the mall nearly fully leased and fully functional."
    With T.J. Maxx, Linens-N-Things and Old Navy set to open in the mall in late March, Grand Avenue can spend most of the year focusing on attracting new customers and regaining those lost when the mall was in transition.
    Weirick said the original concept of the renovation was to re-establish an anchor on the east end of the mall, which was lost when Marshall Field’s left its Plankinton Avenue home in 1997.
    Polacheck and its development partner, Faison & Associates, Charlotte, N.C., have been revamping the Wisconsin Avenue entrance and the mall’s interior design since 2001. They have created four junior anchor spaces in the Plankinton Arcade to provide more variety for urban shoppers.
    Linens-N-Things and T.J. Maxx each will fill 30,000-square-foot spaces on the first floor, and an 18,000square-foot Old Navy will reside on the second floor.
    The fourth 18,000-square-foot space on the second floor has yet to be leased.
    "We will also be adding exterior blade signage, canopies around the east end and architectural lighting on the Plankinton building," Weirick said.
    As the downtown population continues to rebound, The Shops of Grand Avenue aims to focus more on downtown residents in a three- to five-mile radius. By contrast, suburban malls focus on a 30- to 50-mile radius.
    "We want to serve the unique urban market that is downtown," said Weirick. "The downtown residential market is growing, and areas like Marquette and Bayview are underserved for retail."
    According to Weirick, about 60 stores are open in the mall, occupying about 85% of the available space. Weirick is looking for additional tenants to offer merchandise not necessarily available at suburban malls.
    "We are working hard to fill the rest of the mall, and we have had a lot of interest from many different retailers," said Weirick. "We want good retailers, good local merchants with unique products, from apparel to jewelry and so on."
    To attract more customer traffic, Weirick is targeting both the downtown residential population and the downtown daytime worker who may reside in the suburbs.
    He is working closely with nearby condominium developers and Marquette University to arrange welcome packages for new tenants. The packages will include coupons for stores located in Grand Avenue.
    Weirick expects the daytime population to be more active in shopping after eating lunch at the Grand Café food court, Potbelly’s or Applebee’s.
    The Shops of Grand Avenue will try to accommodate daytime customers with merchandise offerings as well.
    "We need a mix. We need all kinds of shoppers," said Weirick. "We need the Walgreen’s shoppers as much as we need the Express shoppers."
    The downtown population has grown from 7,155 in 1990 to 12,660 in 2003, according to the Milwaukee Department of City Development.
    Current downtown residential projects that will be key to the rebirth of The Shops of Grand Avenue include: the 75 Boston Lofts apartments being developed above the Boston Store by the Mandel Group; the 135 Majestic Milwaukee Lofts affordable apartments being developed in the Majestic building by Gorman & Co., Madison; and the Milwaukee Convention Center Hotel group, which plans to develop a new hotel on Fourth Street and Wisconsin Avenue.
    Pedestrian traffic near The Shops of Grand Avenue has received a boost from the opening of the Borders Books & Music store on the east side of Plankinton.
    Construction is scheduled to begin this spring on the Pabst City entertainment mecca, which will include 600 housing units, 450,000 square feet of entertainment retail space and 55,000 square feet of office space to downtown’s west side, according to John Ferchill, Pabst City developer.
    Rather than thinking of Pabst City as a competitor, Weirick views all of the new downtown developments as positive for The Shops of Grand Avenue.
    "Pabst City will help fill in business between downtown events. Right now, the entertainment we have is good, but restaurants cannot survive by depending on Bucks games and the symphony for business," Weirick said.
    Once Grand Avenue is finished, Weirick hopes to see the north side of Wisconsin Avenue, which is receiving a boost from Mo’s restaurateur John Vasallo, to be redeveloped next.
    "Mo’s steak house has done a good job. I think it should keep going down the street," said Weirick. "I think putting tenants back into the Ruess Federal Plaza is important for the city, and the renovation of the Grand Theater are important for the revitalization of West Wisconsin Avenue."

    Feb. 6, 2004 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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