New senior residential project will be ‘centerpiece’ for West Allis
By Mark Kass, for SBT
The City of West Allis has acquired 10 properties that will be sold to a Mequon real estate development firm that plans to build a $7 million residential and commercial development.
General Capital Group has proposed the West Allis development, which will be similar to a project the company has proposed in the Town of Waukesha.
The company plans to take advantage of the growing senior housing market in the Milwaukee area, while at the same time offering retail to the residents of the housing developments, said Michael Weiss, president of General Capital.
The West Allis development would be located on the southeast corner of South 65th Street and West Greenfield Avenue. The four-story project would include 80 units of housing, along with 9,000 square feet of retail development on the first floor that will front on Greenfield Avenue.
"There is so much happening in such a tight geographical area," said Sig Strautmanis, vice president of development for General Capital. "Our studies have found that West Allis is an attractive market for this type of development. There has been a very quick absorption of this type of housing in this area."
The firm was directed to the site by city officials, said John Stibal, director of planning and development for West Allis. He said the city required a "new urbanist" look for the building, with parking in the rear, a high amount of density and retail on the first floor of the development.
he city has granted the necessary approvals for the project.
Stibal said he has followed General Capital’s work in other Milwaukee-area communities and was pleased the company chose West Allis for the project.
"I have been impressed with the quality and the unique type of development they have done throughout the area," he said. "They don’t build junk."
In West Allis, the city’s requirements involving the appearance, density and quality probably added 15 percent to the cost of the project, Stibal said.
"We have a high benchmark for developers, and General Capital was willing to step up to the plate," he said. "This is going to be the centerpiece of our redevelopment efforts in that area."
In the town of Waukesha, General Capital has proposed a $7 million mixed-use development that would include 78 units of housing and 20,000 square feet of retail. The 6-acre site on West Sunset Avenue is located adjacent to a Kohl’s Food Store that General Capital developed about three years ago.
Strautmanis said General Capital is working to find a restaurant and about nine stores or service businesses that would cater to the apartment residents and larger community.
In both projects, General Capital has applied for state tax credits from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Corp., which will require the firm to set aside a number of apartments for households earning 60 percent or less of the county’s median income. The company expects to begin construction on both projects over the next several months.
General Capital has quietly built a long resume of projects since Weiss started the firm in 1996 after leaving Midland Development, a Cincinnati, Ohio-based retail developer. Weiss, who grew up in the Milwaukee area and attended Brown Deer High School, returned to Milwaukee in 1992 after six years as a real estate loan officer for Citibank in New York City, where he participated in loans totaling more than $3 billion.
After leaving Citibank, Weiss joined Midland Development and opened a Milwaukee office. In 1996, Weiss left Midland to start General Capital with his brother, David, who also worked for Citibank. The firm’s third partner is Steve Schnoll, a former Trammell Crow Co. executive.
In all, Weiss and his partners have developed about 20 projects in the Madison and Milwaukee areas.
General Capital’s two most prominent developments to date are the redevelopment of the former Brown Port Shopping Center near Interstate 43 in Fox Point and the redevelopment of the dilapidated Germantown Square Mall at North Pilgrim and West Mequon roads in Germantown.
The Germantown project was complex because of environmental contamination on the site from a former dry cleaner. The land was remediated, and the shopping center is now almost 100 percent leased with a Kohl’s Food Store as the anchor.
"Every deal presents unique challenges but we’ve been able to work through them and complete projects that have added value to the community," Weiss said.
General Capital is currently working on its largest development proposal in the City of Milwaukee. In October 2002, the firm proposed a major shopping center for Milwaukee’s northwest side, in partnership with Milwaukee developer August Urbanek. The $25 million, 380,000-square-foot development, called The Boardwalk, would be built on 43.5 acres just east of Highway 45 and south of West Good Hope Road.
If built, it would be the largest retail shopping center built in the Milwaukee area since the development of Northridge Mall and Southridge Mall in the early 1970s. Weiss said General Capital is working with the City of Milwaukee to rezone the land from office and hotel to retail. He is confident the rezoning will occur in the next few months.
"We have already had a host of retailers interested in the development," Strautmanis said. "I believe we will have a number of new retailers to the area that will have only one store in Milwaukee."
Over the years, General Capital, which had specialized in retail development, has moved into other areas of development, such as residential and office. Rather than following the lead of many other developers, who have specialized in working with large retailers and following them around the country, Weiss decided he wanted to limit the firm’s developments to Milwaukee and Madison.
"We are all young guys with families, and I didn’t want to spend three to four nights a week on the road," he said. "Milwaukee is a good market, but there are not unlimited deals to be done. We knew that we had to diversify our development plans."
Julie Penman, commissioner of the Milwaukee Department of City Development, said the city and General Capital have enjoyed a good working relationship for several years.
"They understand the value that lies in urban markets – on both retail and industrial development deals," she said.
Penman said the city partnered with General Capital in the late 1990s on the development of a 45-acre business park near North 68th Street and West Calumet Road. The project increased the property value of the site by $10 million and served as the city’s first joint effort to develop a business park.
"(General Capital) took the initiative to assemble the property in what was previously a fairly inaccessible location," she said.
Jan. 24, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee