Prominent Milwaukee real estate and civic leader Gary Grunau dies at 80

Grunau instrumental on significant projects, including Schlitz Park

Gary Grunau
Gary Grunau

Last updated on September 26th, 2019 at 01:37 pm

Milwaukee real estate developer Gary Grunau, who has been instrumental in some of the area’s most successful and innovative urban projects, has died at the age of 80, his family announced.

According to a news release, Grunau died early Wednesday morning after a two-year battle with brain cancer.

“Our father, grandfather and husband fought this battle as he lived his life, with kindness, humor, fortitude, integrity, humility and the utmost dignity,” Grunau’s son, John Grunau, said in the release. “His witty humor, sly wink, sound advice and thoughtful gestures are gone for now, but remain in our hearts forever.”

Grunau, a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, is perhaps best known for his work revitalizing the former Jos. Schlitz Brewing Co. complex into the Schlitz Park office complex. The brewery was shut down in 1981, then acquired in 1983 by Grunau and members of the Sampson family.

Schlitz Park was sold earlier this year for more than $101 million to a joint venture consisting of San Francisco and Fort Worth, Texas-based TPG Real Estate and Detroit-based Crestlight Capital.

Other projects Grunau was involved in include the Hyatt Regency, the Wisconsin Center, Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin, ManpowerGroup’s global headquarters, the Milwaukee Riverwalk system and the former Time Warner Building.

Grunau was the recipient of the 2014 BizTimes Bravo! Entrepreneur Lifetime Achievement Award for his life-long commitment to southeastern Wisconsin.

In a 2017 BizTimes cover story, Grunau discussed his plans for his next big project: tackling segregation in the city of Milwaukee.

“Gary was not one to rest on his laurels,” Bruce Block, lifelong friend and colleague of Grunau, said. “As soon as he finished up one difficult transaction, he was on to the next. There was no problem or challenge that he believed was insurmountable. He had boundless energy, and he had a boundless hope that he could make things better.”

His projects won numerous awards, including the Urban Land Institute Achievement Award and The National Council for Urban Economic Development Award. According to the release, one of the most meaningful awards Grunau received was the ULI’s 2017-2018 Global Award of Excellence for the Riverwalk.

He also led and served on numerous boards, including the Milwaukee Academy of Science, Discovery World, Alverno College Board of Trustees, Milwaukee Riverwalk District, Spirit of Milwaukee and the Greater Milwaukee Committee.

Visitation is scheduled for 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday at the Pilot House at Discovery World, and will continue from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. A memorial mass will follow at 11 a.m.

The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Gary P. Grunau “Good for Milwaukee” Fund at the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.

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Alex Zank, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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