When the first residents moved into apartments at the former Pabst Brewery in downtown Milwaukee in early 2009, the 20-acre complex must have felt like a lonely, quiet place. Most of the former brewery then was just as empty as it had been since Pabst shut the doors in 1996.
“I remember the early days when we were trying to paint a picture (of future development plans) with old buildings and streets all torn up,” said Zilber Property Group vice president Mike Mervis.
Most of the brewery complex was acquired by Zilber Ltd. founder Joseph Zilber in 2006. He then began a lengthy project to redevelop the complex into a mixed-use neighborhood, selling several buildings or parcels to other developers for specific projects. The work to transform the complex has continued, despite Zilber’s death in 2010, and the project has slowly but surely made progress.
The Brewery, as the neighborhood was branded by Zilber, now has a pair of apartment buildings, two office buildings, a parking structure, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Public Health, a hotel and restaurant, and Best Place, which has a gift shop, bar and event space.
Plus, several additional projects are coming down the pipeline for the former brewery. Construction work began recently for a new office building. Construction should begin by the end of the year for a senior housing facility. Construction should begin next spring on a luxury apartment building. Also in the works are plans for a foreign student housing facility.
Four and a half years after the first residents moved in, The Brewery is starting to feel like a real neighborhood with people living, working and playing there.
“We’re either at or pretty close to the tipping point,” Mervis said. “I think the really big thing was the hotel and the restaurant at the hotel.”
The Brewhouse Inn & Suites, a 90-room boutique hotel, opened recently at 1215 N. 10th St. in the brewery’s former Brew House and Mill House buildings. Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub is located within the hotel. The hotel was developed by Oregon, Wis.-based Gorman & Company.
Gorman & Company chief executive officer Gary Gorman said the opening of the hotel and last year’s opening of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health building at 1240 N. 10th St. have provided a major boost to The Brewery.
The UWM School of Public Health facility was created by building a new 23,000-square-foot addition onto a 33,000-square-foot former brewery building. The School of Public Health has 55 employees and 63 students. The City of Milwaukee Health Department has a satellite office in the building with four employees there on a regular basis.
“We believe that The Brewery project is reaching a critical mass where it becomes a desirable location,” Gorman said. “The UWM School of Public Health and the hotel are adding a lot of vitality and life to the area.”
Based on that momentum, Gorman & Company plans to build a 100-unit, upscale apartment building on a vacant site at the northeast corner of North 9th Street and West Juneau Avenue in the former brewery complex. The building will be called Frederick Lofts and will have four floors of apartments over a level of enclosed parking.
Most of Gorman & Company’s apartment developments in Milwaukee have a significant amount of affordable units for lower-income residents. That includes the 96-unit Blue Ribbon Lofts apartment building that Gorman developed in the former Keg House at The Brewery. The first apartment building in the development, 70 percent of the units in Blue Ribbon Lofts are subsidized by tax credits and leased at below-market rates to tenants with lower income levels. The other 30 percent are leased at market rates.
In many cases Gorman & Company has to turn away potential tenants whose income is too high for their affordable units, Gorman said. Frederick Lofts will provide Gorman & Company a product for those tenants. All of the units at Frederick Lofts will be rented at market rates. Rents will range from about $975 for an efficiency to $1,750 for a two-bedroom unit, Gorman said.
“We think this is the right project to go there,” he said.
Frederick Lofts will be financed through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 221(d)(4) program, Gorman said.
Another residential building at The Brewery is planned at the former Malt House and Malt Elevator buildings southwest of Juneau Avenue and 10th Street. There, New York-based Whitestone Realty Capital LLC plans to create a 124-unit senior apartment complex, including 31 units for independent seniors, 66 assisted living units and 27 memory care units for residents with Alzheimer’s disease (or equivalent). The facility, to be called Towne Club at The Brewery, will have 74 full time equivalent employees, said Michael Zukerman, CEO and founder of Whitestone Realty Capital LLC.
Whitestone plans to close on the building and begin construction for the $44 million project in this fall. The project will be financed with $29.8 million in tax exempt bonds, plus equity and historic preservation tax credits, Zukerman said.
The project will be complete in early 2015, he said.
The independent senior and assisted living senior residents will be able to take advantage of downtown amenities such as restaurants, sporting events and live shows, Zukerman said.
“These people want to be close to the action,” he said. “We are doing a bunch of these in urban environments. We like downtown. We like historic. This was the closest to downtown that was available at the time in a historic building that could work for senior housing.”
The next major development at The Brewery is Blue Ribbon Management’s project to build a five-story, 73,100-square-foot building, with 42,000 square feet of office space and two floors of interior parking, that will be built just west of Brewhouse Inn & Suites and the Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub patio. Construction work began recently for the office building, called the Pabst Business Center, and is expected to be completed next year
Blue Ribbon Management is working on two other projects at the former Pabst brewery. The firm plans to convert the 240,000-square-foot former Bottling House building into the International House, an apartment building for international students that could accommodate up to 450 students and will have an English as a second language learning area. International students attending Marquette University, UW-Milwaukee, the Milwaukee School of Engineering, Cardinal Stritch, Concordia University and Milwaukee Area Technical College, could live in the building.
Blue Ribbon Management is also working on plans to convert the former German Protestant church at the brewery into a restaurant and event space.
Blue Ribbon Management plans to use the federal government’s EB-5 program to finance all of its projects at The Brewery. The program provides green cards to foreign investors that invest in projects in the U.S. that create jobs. Financing is in place for the office building and Blue Ribbon Management is waiting for federal approval for its investors in the International House project. Financing also must be completed for the redevelopment of the church to move forward.
In addition, Jim Haertel, the owner of Best Place, a gift shop, bar and event hall in the former visitor’s center and corporate office complex of the Pabst brewery, plans to create another, larger event space in the former office building portion of the complex. The 4,800-square-foot space would provide another venue for events, particularly weddings, which have flocked to Best Place since it opened in 2009. The larger space could accommodate events of 400 to 500 people, compared with events of 200 to 300 people that can fit in Best Place’s Blue Ribbon Hall.
The project will likely cost between $500,000 and $1 million, and Haertel hopes to obtain financing and complete the project next year in time to have his son’s wedding reception in the new space.
The Brewery has come a long ways since Haertel made the first move to spur the redevelopment of the complex, signing an offer to purchase in 2001.
“We were the first ones here waiting for anyone to believe that this could become a destination,” Haertel said “It’s exciting to see this happen and for us to grow along with it.”