Mandel Group shifts gears for Harbor District development

Office space scaled back, apartments and hotel added to plans

Rendering of proposed project.

Last updated on May 15th, 2019 at 04:50 pm

Milwaukee-based development firm Mandel Group announced today that it is making major changes to its conceptual plans for a development along the Milwaukee River in the city’s Harbor District.

The company said it has dramatically reduced the amount of office space planned in the project and has added plans for a hotel and apartments. However, no details about the hotel and apartments were revealed.

The $130 million development would be located on 4.25 acres that Mandel has assembled at East Florida and South Water streets. The firm recently purchased two riverfront properties comprising 2.25 acres with nearly 700 feet of river frontage from Delaware-based Kurth Corp.

The property is currently used for boat storage, and by Milwaukee Kayak Co.

Mandel plans to combine those properties with the immediately adjacent Wisconsin Cold Storage property, which it owners, located at 322 East Florida St., to assemble the site for the development.

Mandel originally proposed a three-building, 275,000-square-foot office development at the site in 2016.

But now the amount of office space in the project has been reduced to 60,000 square feet.

Mandel Group specializes in multi-family housing developments, but provided no details on how many units or where apartment buildings will be located in the Harbor District development. It also provided no details on the hotel plans.

In its announcement, the company compared the project to the North End, a multi-building apartment development just north of downtown on the Lower East Side, which also includes a Fresh Thyme Farmers Market store and the Birch + Butcher restaurant.

“Whenever possible our clear preference is to conceive and develop a complete neighborhood rather than build individual buildings,” said Robert Monnat, partner and chief operating officer of Mandel Group.

So far, the only tenant announced for the office space in the project, which will be constructed on the site of the existing grain elevator, is the Mandel Group itself. The firm’s office is currently located downtown at 330 E. Kilbourn Ave.

“When we secure only one more office tenant of 15,000 square feet or so we can really begin moving it forward on a relatively quick schedule,” Monnat said.

A number of the elements of the development plan are concepts and need to be molded into projects that are feasible, Monnat said.

“Critical partnerships with the neighborhood, the city, MMSD, and other governmental jurisdictions will be necessary to pull this off,” Monnat said.

Mandel’s conceptual plans for the project also include a 700-foot riverwalk segment, and a public plaza incorporating the southerly trestle extension of the historic railroad swing bridge ‐ similar to the recently completed Trestle Park on East Erie Street.

Mandel would also like to add a movable bike and pedestrian bridge that threads through the superstructure of the railroad swing bridge centered in the Milwaukee River.

Conceptual site plan for Mandel Group’s Harbor District development.

“As we analyzed the recreational and pedestrian systems that want to flow through this area we realized the tremendous adverse impact existing due to the lack of a direct linkage” Monnat said.

Monnat said the layout of buildings would pay homage to the former historic routing of South Davidson Street. The four‐block long street was obliterated over the years during successive redevelopment activities in the area.

A visual corridor is planned to slice through two of the residential buildings, and an outdoor plaza area connected to street level bar/restaurant spaces would preserve the balance of the corridor.

“The name of the street is too important to the city’s history to lose it” Monnat said. “It is intended to be one of those unexpected, found events that is appreciated if you’re walking through the area.”

The Cold Storage building will be deconstructed. Mandel will continue to work with the existing on‐site businesses as it advances detailed plans and proposals for the various project components.

The Milwaukee Kayak Company will remain and become a permanent fixture in future planning for the project, Monnat said.

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