John "Johnny V" Vassallo, the man behind a proposed 20-story apartment tower at the corner of Mayfair and Bluemound roads in Wauwatosa, says he's now pursuing a retail project instead.
The dramatic switch comes after city leaders and residents criticized the tower's height and density, and rejected Vassallo's previous plans.
A Vassallo-led investors group, POG Kosmos Acquisitions, has filed an application with the city to combine separate parcels at the development site at 10845 W. Bluemound Road.
Vassallo said the lots will be combined and brought under single ownership in order to prepare it for development.
But the development will be either a strip mall or a combination gas station and fast-food restaurant.
Vassallo said in an interview the site could accommodate around 20 or 30 gas pumps with a restaurant like a McDonald's. Or it could have about 12,000 square feet of retail.
He said that "half a dozen" groups have shown interest in the site for retail uses.
It is a far cry from what his group first proposed: a 25-story, 354-unit apartment tower. After facing backlash from the city, Vassallo submitted a revised plan for a tower totaling 20 stories and 340 units. That plan did not fare much better, so Vassallo withdrew his proposal in February.
"It's a sad state of affairs," he said. "It's going to be a $4 million to $5 million asset for the city versus a $50 million to $60 million asset, but I just feel like that's where the market's at."
Vassallo said he doesn't have another development site in mind at the moment. However, some Milwaukee leaders have expressed interest in him moving the project into the city.
The site contained the former Edwardo's restaurant. The long-vacant building was demolished late last year in anticipation of eventual development.
The land-combination request is headed to the Plan Commission in July. Assuming the request is approved by the city, Vassallo's group will draw up some concepts and present them to interested parties.
Something could be developed there by next June, he said.
Wauwatosa Mayor Dennis McBride said in an email he has not seen Vassallo's proposal. Assuming he pursues a gas station and fast-food restaurant, Vassallo would need approval by the city Plan Commission and Common Council, McBride said.
"As Mayor, I am the chair of the Plan Commission. For that reason, I will withhold comment at this time," he said.
The group Still a Suburb Wauwatosa, which was a leading voice against Vassallo's original proposals, declined to comment because it wasn't aware of what specifically he was now pursuing.