Plans unveiled for Grand Avenue transformation

Will include food hall, GRAEF HQ

Aerial View from Wisconsin Avenue and Third Street

Decades of decline for The Shops of Grand Avenue in downtown Milwaukee could finally come to an end as plans for an extensive revitalization effort are moving forward.

The mall’s ownership group, led by Tony Janowiec of Interstate Development Partners and Josh Krsnak of Hempel Companies, this morning unveiled the plans, which includes a food hall, redeveloped office space and 52 residential units, and renames the mall as “The Avenue.”

Janowiec and Krsnak also confirmed that Milwaukee-based engineering firm GRAEF-USA Inc. plans to move its headquarters to the mall by late next year, bringing 170 employees downtown.

BizTimes Milwaukee on Wednesday first reported GRAEF’s plans to relocate based on information from sources familiar with the deal. The company, which will head design efforts for the project, will occupy 35,000 square feet on the building’s third floor. 

“Our firm, we’re engineers, we’re scientists, were designers, we’re technicians, and its a really good match because I think we have the ability to see the vision here of what this could be and how exciting this opportunity is,” said John Kissinger, CEO of GRAEF.

In addition to GRAEF, the owners of The Avenue have a signed letter of intent from a tenant that would occupy 60,000 square feet of office space, said Josh Krsnak, one of the principals of the ownership group.

The Avenue will also be anchored by 3rd Street Market Hall,35,000-square-foot food hall on its ground floor. Led by Omar Shaikh, co-owner and president of SURG Restaurant Group LLC, the concept will feature 21 tenants, six of which were announced today:

  • Stone Creek Coffee, a Milwaukee-based coffee roaster that opened a location on the mall’s 2nd Street skywalk since 2002.
  • Milk Can, a start-up led by chef Kurt Fogle of Bass Bay Brewhouse in Muskego. It will serve Wisconsin favorites, including burgers, cheese curds and custard.
  • Funky Fresh Spring Rolls, a fast-casual concept owned by Trueman McGee. It currently operates a location on the mall’s ground floor. 
  • Donut Monster, a pop-up owned by husband and wife duo Jackie and Sara Woods. This will be its first permanent location. 
  • Char’d, a Korean-style barbecue restaurant that opened earlier this year in the Historic Third Ward.
  • Waterford Wine & Spirits, a beverage retailer owned by Ben Christiansen and located on Brady Street. This will be its second location.

“We really wanted to curate and be careful with bringing in a lot of the different types of restaurants, representing a lot of different cuisines and a lot of different cultures,” Shaikh said.

Additional tenants for the food hall will be announced in the coming months. 3rd Street Market Hall will also feature a centrally-located bar area for happy hour and various events, as well as games such as ping-pong, bocce ball and giant Jenga. 

Elements of the concept were inspired by food halls around the U.S. that the project team visited during its planning process, Shaikh said. He believes it will sit among the top three or four food halls in the country.

The revitalized mall will also include 52 new “work-live” apartment units, from studios to two-bedroom, called the Plankinton Clover Apartments. It will feature “Amenity Alley,” including a dog wellness area, a 4,500-square-foot fitness center, a tenant lounge, a private movie theater, and access to the mall’s 100-person innovation convention center, bicycle storage and premier parking.

Demolition in the building has already begun, and the mall will temporarily close early next year. The food hall and GRAEF’s headquarters are expected to open during the fourth quarter of next year, Janowiec said. 

The mall’s ownership group is a joint venture between Milwaukee-based Aggero Group and Minneapolis-based Hempel Cos. In 2015, a group including those two firms and Tony Janowiec, who at the time was principal of Milwaukee-based Interstate Parking Co., purchased the mall for $24.5 million.

They announced a $65 million redevelopment plan for the downtown mall in April 2016, which included plans for up to 120,000 square feet of office space on the second and third floors and a food hall and urban marketplace on the first floor. They were also seeking a grocery store for the 34,000-square-foot former Linens ‘n Things space.

“It took us a while to get here, and that was very intentional,” Janowiec said. “We knew we absolutely had to get this right because of the incredible importance that this location uses, and the people who occupy this building will hold in the center of the city.”

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Maredithe Meyer
Maredithe has covered retail, restaurants, entertainment and tourism since 2018. Her duties as associate editor include copy editing, page proofing and managing work flow. Meyer earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University and still enjoys attending men’s basketball games to cheer on the Golden Eagles. Also in her free time, Meyer coaches high school field hockey and loves trying out new restaurants in Milwaukee.

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