Momentum builds in Third Ward

Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward has been one of the hottest development areas in the region for years. But like the rest of the economy, development activity in the neighborhood cooled considerably during the Great Recession.

However, now several major development projects are planned in the Third Ward as development activity in the neighborhood is heating up once again.

“I felt the Third Ward cooled (during the recession) less than the rest of the surrounding areas,” said developer Robert Joseph, who has done several development projects in the neighborhood. “The Third Ward is well-positioned to capitalize on the improving market.”

Perhaps the most significant project currently planned in the neighborhood is a 158-room Kimpton hotel that will be developed by Milwaukee-based HKS Holdings LLC on a vacant lot at the northeast corner of Broadway and East Chicago Street. The hotel should enhance Broadway, which is the Main Street of the Third Ward and already has several stores and restaurants.

Construction of the hotel, which will be operated by San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, is expected to begin by the end of the year and be complete in 2015. Kimpton says the hotel will have a “chef-driven, destination restaurant” on the first floor, a rooftop bar, a fitness center and “expansive meeting space.”

It will be the first hotel built in the Third Ward. Kimpton likes “the more artsy, hip vibe of the (Third Ward) neighborhood and thinks it’s a good fit for the brand and their target audience,” said spokeswoman Aimee Grove.

The Third Ward has been a hotbed for residential development for years, and two more apartment developments are planned in the neighborhood.

Mandel Group Inc., a multi-family housing development firm that is based in the Third Ward, plans to build a 150-unit apartment project between Erie Street and the Milwaukee River. Called Domus, it was originally a condo development that Mandel Group scrapped during the recession and has redesigned as an apartment development. The firm hopes to break ground on the project by the end of the year, said Mandel Group chief operating officer Robert Monnat.

The Third Ward is the hottest submarket for residential real estate in the area in and near downtown Milwaukee, Monnat said.

“It remains the most highly desirable submarket in the entire downtown area,” he said.

The reason is that the Third Ward is the most pedestrian-friendly neighborhood in the Milwaukee area, Monnat said. The configuration of the historic warehouse buildings along the street, the riverwalk and the plethora of stores and restaurants continues to attract new residents and visitors.

“It’s a perfect example of the power of the built environment,” Monnat said.

Joseph plans to redevelop the five-story former Eisner Museum of Advertising & Design building, built in 1895 at 208 N. Water St., into a mixed-use building with apartments on the upper three floors and office space on the lower two floors.

The building is currently vacant. The upper three floors were previously used by the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD) as a student dormitory. Joseph plans to create 30, one- and two-bedroom market rate apartments on those floors, with rents of $1,100 and up. Those rents will be lower than most of the apartments in the mostly high-end neighborhood.

“We get a ton of calls from people who want to live in the Third Ward but when they hear the rent they say they can’t afford it,” Joseph said. “This building will fill that gap.”

The lower two floors, previously used by the Eisner Museum, will be leased to office tenants, Joseph said. Combined the two floors have a total of 18,000 square feet of space.

“It’s very cool space, a very dramatic space,” Joseph said.

Joseph plans to close on his purchase of the building from MIAD on July 15 and plans to get to work immediately after that on the redevelopment project. Work should be complete in the spring of 2014, he said.

General Capital Group plans to build a six-story student housing building for MIAD at 252 E. Menomonee St. in the Third Ward. About 300 students will live in the building, which will also have street-level retail space. A single-story building on the property will be demolished.

Meanwhile, the Italian Community Center is still working with Marcus Investments LLC to formulate a development plan for the ICC’s 15-acre property in the Third Ward, which includes 12 acres of surface parking lot and vacant land. Efforts to attract development there, and on other sites on the eastern half of the Third Ward, should be helped by the city’s plan to extend Lincoln Memorial Drive south to Chicago Street. The road extension is expected to improve vehicular access to the Third Ward, which could help attract more development.

Other notable developments in the works in the Third Ward include Alterra Coffee Roasters’ plans to open a café at 225 E. St. Paul Ave. and the Primebar restaurant, which will open in a 12,000-square-foot space at 342 N. Water St., next to the future Alterra space.

However, the Third Ward needs to attract even more residents to attract more neighborhood-supporting retailers like a grocery store and a pharmacy, Monnat said. The Milwaukee Public Market helps fill the need for groceries.

The appeal of the Third Ward will continue to attract more residents, Joseph said.

“The Third Ward is the best place to live in the city,” he said. “It’s my favorite place to develop. It’s my favorite place to spend time.”

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