Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:22 pm
Mark Eppli probably could not have selected a more challenging city than Milwaukee in which to ply his trade.
After all, Milwaukee is beset with urban sprawl, racial segregation, two urban shopping malls in transition and a mass transit conundrum.
Eppli is a self-avowed "new urbanist." As such, he believes in self-sustaining neighborhoods, "smart growth," flexible street designs, mixed-use development and effective mass transit systems.
Eppli also is Marquette University’s new Robert Bernard Bell Sr. chair in real estate in the school’s Department of Finance.
"There is a broad set of challenges that Milwaukee must rise up to meet. Hopefully, by bringing in the latest ideas and information, we can have better answers to these challenges," Eppli said.
Indeed, Eppli has a proven resumé when it comes to gathering information about real estate markets. He moved to Milwaukee July 15 from Washington, D.C., where he was a professor of finance and real estate in the School of Business and Public Management and the director of the master of business administration program in real estate and urban development at George Washington University.
Eppli has published a book on new urbanism and has written several book sections for the Urban Land Institute, a San Francisco-based think-tank.
While Eppli makes no apologies for his new-urbanist views, he is not so arrogant as to believe that other schools of thought have no merit in determining how urban areas are best developed.
"In philosophy, I am a new urbanist. I like the tenets of smart growth of new urbanism, but it need not be so prescriptive," Eppli said.
At Marquette, Eppli’s duties will be divided: 25% teaching as a professor; 25% conducting research; and 50% reaching out to the university and the community.
Marquette does not have a degree program in real estate. Eppli’s ultimate challenge is to help the university establish undergraduate and graduate programs in real estate. Such programs would prepare students for careers in development, property valuation, construction management, financial services and residential and commercial real estate sales.
David Shrock, dean of Marquette’s College of Business Administration, believes Eppli is the right person for the job.
"As the Robert B. Bell Sr. chair in real estate, Mark Eppli will provide our students with outstanding educational opportunities in this area, along with building strong relationships with the real estate leaders in Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin," Shrock said.
Being so new to the market, Eppli is not yet ready to throw stones or take stances on how Milwaukee should address its socioeconomic future.
However, he does have some immediate thoughts. He would like to study how Milwaukee can collectively procure more investment dollars from real estate trusts, and he believes an effective mass transit system – in whatever form that takes – is essential to the well-being and the commerce of the area.
"Connectivity – connecting people to a set of activities for the day to where they live, they work, they shop," is how Eppli simplifies his viewpoint of urban development.
Eppli believes an effective neighborhood has mixed uses of development, including residential properties to support all ranges of wealth, commercial properties and retail properties.
"It’s combining the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker in one community; and it’s carried out in the design, the plan and the roadways of a community," Eppli said. "It works fairly well."
Eppli also believes the city will need a stronger retail sector to support the growing number of upscale condominiums and other residential development downtown.
"The amenities have to be there," he said.
Eppli has extensively studied the redevelopment of "grayfields." Unlike the more widely known brownfields, which are blighted industrial areas, grayfield include shopping malls that are in decay and which are no longer contributing to the wealth and the well-being of the community.
In Milwaukee, Northridge Mall and The Shops at Grand Avenue properties are both at a crossroads.
"Mixed use absolutely is the way to go – commercial, residential and retail," Eppli said. "I think what you need to do with the downtown mall is to have it mixed use, but to open it up. Malls often turn their backs on the community, and they need to open to the community, to the street."
If it sounds as if Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist may have a new best friend, the two have not yet met. However, Eppli considers Norquist to be on the leading edge of new urbanism.
Of course, Eppli knows the challenge he faces in Milwaukee, where radio talk show brigades bristle at the mere utterance of the words "light rail," where the car is still king, and where people tend to stay in neighborhoods that reflect their race, social status and financial standings.
Eppli, who grew up in Fond du Lac and was a professor at the University of Wisconsin before moving to Washington, D.C., has some immediate positive impressions about Milwaukee. He has noticed the boulevard medians adorned with flowers, the "graciousness" of the people, a "wonderful" lakefront and colleagues at Marquette "who really care about their students."
Oh, and he devoured a great steak at Eddie Martini’s.
"Milwaukee has rich architecture and culture," Eppli said.
And he can’t wait to link up with the community’s real estate and development leaders to help them change the landscape and ultimately to teach the next generation of real estate visionaries.
Eppli is aware of Marquette’s high expectations for him. After all, his position was created when the College of Business Administration received a $3.75 million gift – the largest the college has ever received – from the family of Robert Bernard Bell Sr., retired president of First Realty Co.
"If I’m a success, I’ll set up an institute that is so successful, it doesn’t need me anymore," Eppli said.
Aug. 16. 2002 Small Business Times, Milwaukee