Real Estate Conference attendees pick UWM Innovation Park as favored project

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Innovation Park project in Wauwatosa garnered the most “investment” from votes cast by people who attended the BizTimes Milwaukee Commercial Real Estate and Development Conference last week at Potawatomi Bingo Casino. A sellout crowd of more than 400 attended the conference.

A panel of southeastern Wisconsin’s biggest commercial real estate players: Jim Barry III of Cassidy Turley Barry, Gary Grunau of Grucon Group, Mike Mervis of Zilber Ltd. and Barry Mandel of Mandel Group, discussed the most important commercial real estate development projects in the Milwaukee area. The panel discussed the top ten projects in the region deserving of public and private investment, selected by a survey of members of the Commercial Association of Realtors Wisconsin (CARW).

Based on the CARW survey results (each respondent could pick three projects), the top 10 projects, revealed at the conference, were:
1. Park East corridor, 32.7 percent
2. Shops of Grand Avenue, 32.7 percent
3. Kohl’s corporate headquarters, 25.5 percent
4. UWM Innovation Park, 23.6 percent
5. Bradley Center replacement, 20 percent
6. Menomonee Valley, 20 percent
7. Aerotropolis development near airport, 18.2 percent
8. Northwestern Mutual office building, 16.4 percent
9. UWM School of Freshwater Sciences, 16.4 percent
10. Oak Creek Delphi site, 14.5 percent

Click on the links for video highlights of the panelists’ comments.

After the event, conference attendees were invited to vote for their favorite project using fake $1 million bills. Conference attendees picked the UWM Innovation Park project as their favorite.

Conference attendee votes:
1. UWM Innovation park, $52 "million"
2. Park East corridor, $43.5 "million"
3. Shops of Grand Avenue, $34 "million"
4. Kohl’s corporate headquarters, $32 "million"
5. Northwestern Mutual office building, $27.5 "million"
6. UWM School of Freshwater Sciences, $26 "million"
7. Bradley center replacement, $17 "million"
8. Menomonee Valley, $12 "million"
9. Oak Creek Delphi site, $7 "million"
10. Aerotropolis development near airport, $2 "million"

Mandel spoke about the potential for the UWM Innovation Park project, which apparently won over many in the crowd at the conference.

“I think this is the most important development in southeastern Wisconsin for the next several decades, and I think it has international significance,” Mandel said.

The UWM Innovation Park will be able to take advantage of synergies with the nearby Medical College of Wisconsin, Froedtert Hospital, Children’s Hospital, GE Healthcare and the Milwaukee County Research Park, Mandel said, which will make UWM Innovation Park a magnet for start-up businesses that take advantage of access to medical and engineering researchers.

“I start to see a village attracting the best medical minds in the world, the finest scientists, the finest high tech and biomedical device manufacturers, all combining geometrically growing with each other with a voracious appetite, gobbling acre after acre after acre. Creating jobs, tax base, internationally competing for research grants medical care and medical devices producing innovative American made products.”

Eventually the UWM Innovation Park should be expanded into the entire 1,000-acre Milwaukee County Grounds site, Mandel said. The site is large enough to, “rival the biggest research park in the United States of America,” he said.

“County Executive Abele, I know what it’s like to be land poor. But you are land rich,” Mandel said. “A thousand acres. Use that for economic development.”

Three of the panelists: Grunau, Mandel and Barry, expressed support for extending the Miller Park sales tax to pay for a replacement to the Bradley Center to help keep the Milwaukee Bucks viable for the long term.

“I think we should just do it,” Mandel said.

A new arena project should be combined with a project to build the long-planned third phase to the Frontier Airlines convention center, Grunau said. The sales tax should be extended only for Milwaukee County to avoid a political fight with suburban counties, he said.

The panelists expressed hope that Kohl’s new corporate headquarters and Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.’s new office building will be built in downtown Milwaukee.

“Downtown Milwaukee offers a new youth market, a new excitement,” Mervis said.

“Downtown is where it’s at,” Grunau said. “Companies are going to learn that where you should be is in the urban center. They should be located where the talent is. The talent is in the urban center.”

The Shops of Grand Avenue needs, “radical surgery,” Barry said. “The urban mall is done,” he said. “It’s over and we need to move on.”

The UWM School of Freshwater Sciences is, “probably the Milwaukee area’s best chance in 25 years to emerge as a leader in an industry that is emerging,” Mervis said.

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