Tyler Hawley was a freshman in college when his mom bought one of the first condominiums in the Third Ward.
The year was 1998, and the neighborhood was a ghost town of abandoned warehouses and outdated factories.
“She was an interior designer at Engberg Anderson (Architects) and bought a studio,” said Hawley, co-owner of HKS Holdings LLC, a Milwaukee-based development company. “She lived there one year and then she sold it, doubling her money.”
The neighborhood and its potential stuck with Hawley.
After moving back to Milwaukee after college in 2004, Hawley’s first deal with business partner Kyle Strigenz was in the Third Ward. The two worked with developer Doug Weas on a $13 million rehab project to convert the building at 311 E. Chicago St. into a mixed use office, retail and residential building.
Today, nearly 20 years after his mother purchased that condo, Hawley, Strigenz and their third partner, Joe Klein, plan to convert the former Julien Shade Shop building at 338-340 N. Milwaukee St. into high-end apartments.
The 109-year-old building, to be called Atelier, will include 31 apartments with commercial space on the first floor, which faces Milwaukee Street and St. Paul Avenue. A rooftop penthouse is planned that would include four additional apartments. Rents will start at $1,600 and range up to $4,000 for the penthouse.
“At some point, there is not going to be a lot of real estate left (in the Third Ward); this is all filled in and you can see these side streets are starting to go, too,” Klein said, pointing down Chicago Street while sitting at a table at Tre Rivali inside the Kimpton Journeyman Hotel, which HKS Holdings developed and opened in June.
“We develop places we would want to live, places we would want to stay or shop,” he said. “As long as Milwaukee is still growing and vibrant, there will still be opportunities for us.”
After working for the global real estate team at Lehman Brothers and then traveling the world following the company’s crash, Klein returned home and joined Hawley and Strigenz in 2009. Having been raised in a real estate family (his father is Dennis Klein, formerly of KBS Construction Inc.), the younger Klein was familiar with the deals with which Hawley and Strigenz were involved.
The elder Klein helped finance the Aloft Milwaukee Downtown hotel, which HKS completed in 2009, shortly before Joe joined the team.
Strigenz also has a background in real estate finance, having worked with Milwaukee-based FirstPathway Partners LLC. He said the three of them coming together made sense given their backgrounds and desire to create something that hadn’t been done before in Milwaukee.
“We’ve all traveled extensively across the world, done projects in other parts of the country and after doing our own projects in Portland, Miami or New York, came together and said, ‘Why can’t we do this in Milwaukee?” Strigenz said. “We don’t mind being the first mover on something. In fact, we like that.”
The first project the trio worked on together was in Bay View. Hawley and Strigenz had been accumulating parcels for several years, but the economy had taken a turn and obtaining financing was difficult. In late 2009, the three of them came up with the idea for Dwell Bay View, an apartment building that includes retail and parking. The $13 million project was financed with New Markets Tax Credits, Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority bonds and a brownfield loan from the City of Milwaukee.
From there, they developed Junior House, a 50-unit loft apartment development in Walker’s Point. The group in 2015 converted the Posner Building, at 725 N. Plankinton Ave. in downtown Milwaukee, to 105 high-end apartments called MKE Lofts, which includes 21,000 square feet of retail space.
“The apartments we’ve done are unique,” Klein said. “If you had seen the MKE Lofts building two years ago, you would have thought we were nuts. But we have transformed that couple block radius into the most beautiful rental district in the neighborhood.”
During their work on the Aloft, Strigenz and Hawley got to know Rich Meeusen, chief executive officer of Brown Deer-based Badger Meter Inc., who was an investor in the hotel project and is co-chair of The Water Council.
Meeusen’s excitement about The Water Council piqued the HKS partners’ interest. They wanted to find a way to capitalize, from a development standpoint, on the companies being lured to Milwaukee.
So they developed the Global Water Center building at 247 W. Freshwater Way, which now has more than 40 tenants who are a mix of entrepreneurs, water researchers and engineers.
Meeusen said the Water Center building has been a beehive to attract water technology companies to build their business in Milwaukee.
“You can go to Paris and tell people it’s a center for art, but until you take them to The Louvre, you’re not really proving it,” Meeusen said. “Our building really demonstrates we are a center for water technology.”
Strigenz said he knew the Global Water Center would be a success because of the stakeholders who are involved with the project. And by extension, its success has benefitted the nearby Junior House Lofts and improved all of Walker’s Point, he said.
“This is how our business is going to sustain itself,” Klein added. “Job growth, a good local economy, a strong hotel market. As the city improves, our business improves. The Global Water Center is just one project.”
HKS Holdings will begin 2017 with two large projects on deck: the Julien Shade apartment conversion and Global Water Center II, at 326-332 Florida St. in Walker’s Point, which will be used for graduates of The Water Council’s business accelerator programs and new industry cluster participants.
There are other projects on deck too, but HKS Holdings principals are only saying they involve “neighborhoods.”
“I think the best thing that could happen to us is to have our friends, family and visitors come up and say, ‘Thank you for putting this in our neighborhood,’ or ‘Thank you for bringing this to Milwaukee,’” Hawley said. “And it happens all of the time.”
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