Bear Development and Kacmarcik Enterprises have purchased the land where they plan to construct a sprawling sports and entertainment district, called Iron District MKE, on roughly 11 acres previously owned by Marquette University.
S.R. Mills, CEO and president of Bear Development, confirmed Wednesday that the company, along with Kacmarcik, had officially closed on purchasing all of the properties for roughly $12.5 million. Real estate transfer documents posted to the state Department of Revenue on Wednesday included information on four of the parcels that make up 3.45 acres of the site. Located at 531-533 N. Eighth St., 633 W. Michigan St., 525 N. Sixth St., and 555 N. James Lovell St. Three of the properties were purchased by limited liability companies affiliated with Bear Development. A limited liability company affiliated with Kacmarcik Enterprises purchased the site at 555 N. James Lovell St.
News of the official sale of the properties comes about a month after the two companies first announced plans for the Iron District MKE development, which is slated to include a full-service hotel, 3,500-person indoor concert venue, and an 8,000-seat soccer stadium. The entertainment district site is bounded by North 6th Street on the east, Michigan Street on the north, and the Marquette Interchange to the west and south.
Mills said Wednesday that all of the parcels that will make up the future Iron District site had been purchased.
TIF district for apartment complex
While the two companies begin to prepare for the governmental approvals process for the Iron District, Bear Development has already secured tax increment financing for an "affordable housing" development, which will be located on a 0.78-acre site on the west side of the Iron District.
Members of the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee (RACM) approved the creation of a developer-funded tax increment finance district (TID) last week. Bordered by North Ninth Street to the east, West Michigan Street to the north, and an I-43 off ramp to the west, the TID is aimed at helping Bear Development finance the construction of a five story, 99-unit apartment building.
“We thought it fit nicely in there, given some of the orientation,” Mills told RACM members. “We were putting a lot of the puzzle pieces together between the stadium, theater, hotel and how that would actually work. When we had it all laid out it just worked well at the end of the day. (The apartment building) does act as a bit of a buffer, but the way the off-ramp does work there we don’t think it will be too obtrusive to the residents living in the units.”
The TID agreement itself calls for Bear to give the city $1.8 million to help pay for infrastructure improvements necessary to make the apartment project happen, with the city paying Bear the money back at 5.5% interest using money generated by the TID.
Construction is expected to begin in August and slated to wrap up by March 2024. As part of that process, Nick Orthman, a project manager with Bear Development, said the company would be working with city staff and the state Department of Transportation to vacate portions of Eighth and Ninth streets as well as McCauley Place. As part of the plan, Eighth and Ninth streets would become private roadways that would aid in the circulation of the site, Orthman said.
Filling a Need
Dubbed the Michigan Commons in TID documents, the apartment building would include a mix of one-and-two-bedroom apartments for residents who earn up to 60% of the area’s median income or less. A third of the units in the building would be further targeted toward people making up to 50% of the area’s median income or less. Rents would range from $796 to $1,161 a month. Students would not be permitted to rent the apartments with the exception of certain carve outs for single-parents and married students filing joint property taxes, who also meet the income guidelines.
The building is slated to have 29 below-grade parking spots, which would be available for a separate fee.
“If you are familiar with market rate rents downtown these are probably half or less of what market rate apartments are renting for downtown,” Maria Prioletta, redevelopment and special projects manager with the city’s Department of City Development.
When a public commenter, Jason Ross, took issue with the city paying Bear Development back with interest, Prioletta noted the “but for” nature of tax increment financing, stating that the project might not be able to come to fruition “but for” the city’s assistance.
She also mentioned the dearth of affordable housing complexes in and around downtown.
S.R. Mills noted that 700 Loftsbuilding, which is located just across the street from the proposed site of Michigan Commons at 700 W. Michigan St. rarely has an open apartment. Once an office building, Bear Development transformed the building into a 49-unit apartment complex, with a combination of low-income and market rate apartments, in 2014.
“We run 95 to 100% occupancy at 700 Lofts. Typically, the only time we have a vacancy is when we are turning a unit. Portfolio-wide we average 99.2% occupancy,” Mills said.