New facade will spruce up Colby-Abbot Building

    Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:33 pm

    The interior of the 122-year-old Colby-Abbot Building at 759 N. Milwaukee St. has been renovated extensively since it was purchased six years ago by Charles Kahn Jr. and his wife, Patti Keating Kahn.
    Now,the Kahns are preparing to give the exterior of the building a facelift.
    "It’s a significant building in this community’s history, and we’re trying to maintain that," Keating Kahn said. "We’re working hard at it."
    The building, located at the northwest corner of Milwaukee and Mason streets, has been owned by the Kahn family since Charles’ grandfather, Gustave Kahn, bought it in 1926.
    Charles and Patti bought the building in 1998. Since then, they have spent about $1 million to improve the building’s interior and about another $500,000 to upgrade its parking structure. They cleaned the marble in the building’s lobby and hallways, remodeled the bathrooms, gutted many of the office spaces, removed drop ceilings that had covered the original high ceilings and made numerous other interior improvements.
    This year, they plan to begin work to improve the exterior appearance of the building. For the first phase of the exterior improvements, the first floor of the building will get new floor-to-ceiling windows.
    Later, the concrete aggregate exterior of the building will be removed to make the structure look more like it did originally.
    "That’s a huge expense," Keating Kahn said, so the concrete aggregate will be removed in phases as the building’s cash flow provides funds to do the work.
    The Kahns plan to spend about $1 million on the exterior upgrades over the course of a few years.
    "Everything we bring in (in revenue), we pour right back into the building," Keating Kahn said. "(The building) is doing the best it possibly can do, and its future is bright."
    About 95 percent of the six-story Colby-Abbot building’s 77,000 square feet of class B office space is occupied, Keating Kahn said. Its occupancy rate was about 75 percent when they bought the building, she said.
    The building may be best known as the home of Karl Ratzsch’s German restaurant, which has been a tenant for 75 years.
    Later this month, Tony Anagnou, whose family owns the Omega restaurants, will open the EuroBar CafZ in 2,500 square feet of space in the ground floor of the building. The EuroBar CafZ will be a combination of a coffee house and a bar, a popular concept in parts of Europe. EuroBar CafZ will face Mason Street, but people will also be able to enter from the building’s Milwaukee Street lobby.
    In recent years, several nightclubs have opened on Milwaukee Street near the Colby-Abbot building.
    The building was constructed in 1883 as the original home office of the Wisconsin Central Railroad. The building retains many of its old features, including brick fireplaces in many of the offices.
    Keating Kahn said she has received about a dozen calls in the last two years from people interested in buying the Colby-Abbot building. The building has an assessed value of $2 million, according to city records.
    "It’s not for sale," Keating Kahn said.
    In November, the Kahns purchased the Railway Exchange Building at 229 E. Wisconsin Ave., and they also plan to make several improvements to that building. The marble in the lobby is being cleaned, plumbing and mechanical systems will be upgraded and asbestos abatement will be done. A new roof will be installed, and the mosaic tile floor may be repaired.
    "We’re going to do the same thing there we did to (Colby-Abbot)," Keating Kahn said.
    March, 4, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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