Planting seeds

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:32 pm

The Teweles Seed tower is expected to be ready for inhabitants by December in its reincarnation as an affordable apartment complex. The tower at 222 S. Third St. on Milwaukee’s south side was built in 1918 and was used for many years as a warehouse and production plant for the Teweles Seed Co.
By 1998, the tower was 12 stories of empty space. It had not been used since the 1980s.
Herb Thatcher, the owner of the building at the time, approached Bob Schultz with a proposal to turn the empty warehouse into an apartment building with affordable rents.
“Once I made a commitment to Herb to do it, then I felt an obligation to use whatever resources I had available,” said Schultz, president of Schultz Development Group and Third Coast Design.
While the project hasn’t been easy, the dream is about to come true, and the seed tower is on its way to becoming a home for more than 100 people.
Business leaders and political figures gathered earlier this month to celebrate the community partnerships that enabled such a vision to come to life.
“We’re here to celebrate the preservation of an historic building, the creation of affordable housing and the revival of an urban neighborhood,” said Joe Errigo, president of CommonBond Communities. “This is a celebration of partnerships.”
After Schultz committed himself to the project, he went to St. Paul, Minn., to bring CommonBond Communities on board. CommonBond Communities is one of the Midwest’s largest non-profit providers of high-quality affordable housing with services.
“We joined on because the opportunity was presented to us,” said Joe Holmberg, senior vice president of CommonBond Communities. “It was a large, mixed-income development in a great location.”
The Teweles tower is the first Wisconsin project for CommonBond. CommonBond and Schultz Development are co-developers, each responsible for 50 percent of the project.
“They have a national reputation for their expertise in finance and management,” Schultz said. “My strong suits are design and construction.”
The Wisconsin Housing Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) awarded the project $7.5 million in tax credits, which were sold to Simpson Housing Solutions LLC. Simpson brought US Bank in to provide the construction permit financing, Schultz said. The total cost to redevelop the complex is estimated at $18.5 million.
“I don’t think any other team would be able to do this project,” Schultz said. “Several developers said it was impossible to do. They said we wouldn’t be able to control our cost. It shows what you can do in a community if you set your mind to it.”
Schultz said he is proud of the fact that he is providing his laborers on the project with living wages of $23 per hour.
“Not only were we doing a project the non-union developers thought was impossible to do, we were doing it with union labor,” he said. “(The workers) set the tone for the whole project.”
Once completed, the building will feature 115 apartment units, including studios, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. An additional two floors are being added to the top of the building for penthouse units. Amenities will include a fitness center, parking, balconies, decks and a rooftop observation deck with a striking view of downtown Milwaukee.
The housing is intended to serve the needs of the community, said Marjean Pountain, vice president of Ogden and Co., the marketing consultant for the developers.
“We will market all areas, but we intend to focus on people who work in the Fifth Ward or want to live there,” she said.
Pountain said she expects the housing to attract young singles and couples attracted by the surrounding bars and restaurants in the Walker’s Point neighborhood, providing great social opportunities for residents.
The development also will cater to the needs of Latino members of the community, Pountain said.
“The manager is bilingual and speaks Spanish,” she said. “We also intend to have marketing materials available in Spanish.”
Sixty-eight apartments will be rented to people with annual income of no more than $38,280, which is 60 percent of Milwaukee County’s median income, according to WHEDA.
The monthly rents for the low-income apartments will range from $315 to $990. The rents for the market-rate apartments will range from $1,000 to $2,250.
“Were going to have a real challenge to meet the growing needs of affordable housing, but we can do it through partnerships,” said Antonio Riley, executive director of WHEDA.
“The business leaders in this community need to stand up for living wages and affordable housing on every project,” Schultz said.
Milwaukee Ald. Bob Baumann said the development will be beneficial for the community by bringing more people downtown.
“It adds to the tax base, it adds diversity of housing stock downtown,” Bauman said. “It is a great catalyst for additional development.”
The tower is considered an historic architectural landmark and was once considered the tallest structure on the south side of Milwaukee.
Once it is rebuilt, the architectural style of the building will be “industrial chic,” Schultz said, which is a minimalist approach. Cement columns, brick walls and piping may be visible using such a style.
“People will look up and see the elements of the building exposed,” Schultz said.
“It’s a technically difficult project,” he said. “To minimize costs, we are trying to keep the concrete walls in place, but we have to line up the plumbing for 12 stories.”
Despite the challenges ahead, Schlutz said he is optimistic Teweles tower will be a popular place to live.
“This project is going to be a home run,” he said.
August 20, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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