Real estate projects will revitalize Milwaukee’s west side

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:40 pm

The west side of downtown Milwaukee has long been considered the poor stepsister of the downtown’s east side. During the city’s earliest settlement days, the east side and west side were bitter rivals, resulting in the locally infamous 1845 bridge war.

The east side clearly emerged as the most important part of downtown Milwaukee. The area east of the Milwaukee River has all of the class A office space in downtown Milwaukee, lakefront condominium towers and the Milwaukee Art Museum with its famed Santiago Calatrava-designed addition.

The west side of downtown Milwaukee includes lower-class office buildings and fewer condominiums. The west side may be best known as the location of the Midwest Airlines Center, the Bradley Center and the financially struggling Milwaukee Public Museum.

However, several real estate development projects are set to dramatically revamp the west side of downtown over the next few years.

“It’s going to be one of the most vibrant areas in the entire region because of its cultural assets, sports facilities, public infrastructure including public buildings, office space, retail space, residences and some of the finest transportation connections in the entire city,” said Richard “Rocky” Marcoux, commissioner of the Department of City Development.

“As the east side of the river gets built out and increases in value, the logical move is to look at less-developed property at a more reasonable price (on the west side of downtown),” said Mike Mervis, assistant to Joseph Zilber, chairman and founder of Milwaukee-based Zilber Ltd.

Zilber is planning a massive redevelopment of the former Pabst brewery on the west side. He plans to preserve many of the former brewery buildings, some more than 100 years old, in the 20-acre property located northwest of West Highland Avenue and North Eighth Street. Zilber plans to sell parts of the property to other developers and redevelop some of the property himself.

Zilber’s goal is to transform the former Pabst property into an urban neighborhood with a mix of residential units, office space, a hotel, restaurants and retail space. Zilber is seeking $29 million in tax incremental financing (TIF) from the city of Milwaukee. The Common Council could approve that request on Tuesday, Dec. 12. Site work could begin in early 2007.

The west side of downtown will get a boost next year when construction is completed on the new 280,000-square-foot corporate headquarters for Manpower Inc. along the Milwaukee River, southeast of North Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and West Cherry Street. Manpower will move 900 employees from Glendale and Brookfield to the building, which is being constructed on a vacant lot. The Manpower project is expected to spur additional development in the area and has sparked the interest in hotel developments, which could serve business travelers visiting the Manpower headquarters.

“I think Manpower is a huge part of why a lot of office users are interested in the Park East corridor,” said Robert Ruvin, owner of Mequon-based Ruvin Development Inc. “I don’t think people realize what an impact it’s had and will continue to have.”

The Park East Freeway corridor is located just east of the former Pabst brewery site and just south of the Manpower site. Most of the vacant land where that freeway once stood is owned by Milwaukee County, which is selling the property to developers, piece by piece.

So far, the county has selected developers for just one of the Park East parcels on the west side of downtown Milwaukee. County supervisors chose Ruvin Development and Dallas-based Gatehouse Capital Corp.’s plan to build a 175-room hotel, 70 condos, 55,000 square feet of office space and 31,000 square feet of retail space on the property bordered by North Old World Third Street, North Fourth Street, West Juneau Avenue and West McKinley Avenue. The project includes a 20-story building, the restoration of the Sydney Hih building at the southeast corner of the block and the restoration of the former Gipfel brewery, which Ruvin and Gatehouse plans to move from 423-27 W. Juneau Ave. to their site.

“We plan to break ground in the middle of next year,” Ruvin said. The Gipfel brewery building will be moved later this month, he said.

McKinley Avenue, which runs through the Park East corridor, could become the new main entrance to downtown Milwaukee, sparking development around it, Mervis said.

“The Park East corridor will eventually be what I consider the heart of downtown,” Ruvin said. “I think there are going to be office and retail users filling in the areas near the edges of the Park East corridor in anticipation of what’s to come.”

The Bradley Center, located just southwest of the site that Ruvin and Gatehouse plan to develop, is making plans to attract commercial development on vacant property near the area that it owns. The Bradley Center has hired CB Richard Ellis to assist with its development plans. The Bradley Center is looking for ways to increase its revenue so it can provide additional dollars to help support the Milwaukee Bucks.

Another development is planned just north of the Park East corridor on the west side of downtown Milwaukee. Daniel Druml, owner of Paul Davis Restoration, has purchased the former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel maintenance facility at the northwest corner of North Sixth Street and West McKinley Ave. from Journal Sentinel Inc. Druml plans to redevelop that property and the entire block with 45,000 to 65,000 square feet of retail space, 88,000 square feet of office space and residential development on the north side of the block.

“What going to happen with the new development down that (Park East) corridor is going to be substantial,” Druml said. “During the next couple of years, there’s going to be a lot of growth in that area. I think you’re going to see it get as much momentum as the Third Ward.”

Development in and around the Park East corridor should eventually stimulate development to the rest of the west side of downtown Milwaukee, said William Bonifas, executive vice president of CB Richard Ellis.

“You’re going to create a belt of development on the north,” he said. “With the freeway blocking things on the south, there should be infill in between.”

To the south of the freeway, a $15.6 million remodeling of the downtown Milwaukee train station at 433 W. St. Paul Ave. will convert the facility into an intermodal station anchored by Amtrak and Greyhound. The project is expected to be complete by August 2007. Greyhound will move there from its current station at 606 N. James Lovell St., opening up another large space on the west side of downtown Milwaukee. Meanwhile, city officials are hoping the train station remodeling will spark development on nearby properties.

A task force of government, hospitality and tourism officials that is studying ways to increase the number of conventions in Milwaukee may hire a consulting firm to study the feasibility of expanding the Midwest Airlines Center, said Franklyn Gimbel, chairman of the Wisconsin Center District, which runs the convention center located on the west side of downtown at 400 W. Wisconsin Ave.

The expansion would likely cost $100 million to $150 million and would add about 150,000 to 200,000 square feet of meeting space, Gimbel said.

The district collects a 2-percent hotel tax in Milwaukee County, an additional 7-percent hotel tax in the city of Milwaukee, a 0.25-percent food and beverage tax in Milwaukee County and a 3-percent car rental tax in Milwaukee County.

The district has the authority to increase the food and beverage tax by 0.25 percent, the county hotel tax by 1 percent and the car rental tax by 1 percent, Gimbel said. However, even if the district implemented those increases, it might need a larger tax increase to pay for such an expansion, he said.

By late spring, the task force will decide if it will ask the state legislature to provide the Wisconsin Center District with additional taxing authority, Gimbel said.

Meanwhile, other cities competing with Milwaukee are upgrading their convention center space. Indianapolis, for example, is planning a $275 million expansion of its convention center that will add 254,000 square feet of exhibition space, bringing its total size to 564,000 square feet.

Gimbel also has said that downtown Milwaukee also needs more hotel rooms to attract more conventions. City officials are trying to attract a hotel development to a vacant two-acre site on the west side of downtown located across the street from the convention center at the southwest corner of West Wisconsin Avenue and North Fourth Street.

After issuing a request for proposals for the property, the city granted a purchase option to Charlotte, N.C.-based Ghazi Co., which plans to build a 32-story building on the site with a hotel, retail space and condominiums. However, city officials and Ghazi have not yet agreed on final plans for the site.

Alderman Robert Bauman, who represents the downtown area, is skeptical that the Ghazi project will become a reality.

“The lack of noise (about the project) suggests to me that that’s not a real deal,” Bauman said. “They have never reached out to anyone on the council, that I know of. I have never spoken to anyone with that company.”

However, Marcoux and a Ghazi executive said they are still working on the project.

“We’re definitely moving forward,” said Armin Ghazi, a Ghazi Co. associate.

“We’re continuing to work with them,” Marcoux said. “It’s not a dead development.”

The west side of downtown Milwaukee also has attracted a few residential developments. City Real Estate Development LLC is converting the 22-story Wisconsin Tower building at 606 W. Wisconsin Ave. from office space into condominiums.

Aventura, Fla.-based Apartment and Land Management LLC is converting the 12-story, 93-year-old former Hotel Wisconsin building at 720 N. Old World Third St. into a luxury apartment building with 108 units.

The west side of downtown could be more appealing for residential development because its lower property values can allow developers to offer downtown residences at a more affordable price, Bauman said.

Emerging west side pearls

  • Redevelopment of the Pabst brewery site.
  • The development of Park East Freeway corridor.
  • The new Manpower Inc. headquarters.
  • The restoration of the Sydney Hih building.
  • The redevelopment of West McKinley Avenue.
  • The remodeling of the downtown Milwaukee train station.
  • The conversion of the Wisconsin Tower building into a condominium complex.
  • The conversion of the Wisconsin Hotel building into luxury apartments.
  • A proposed new hotel near the Midwest Airlines Center.
  • Possible expansion of the Midwest Airlines Center.
  • Possible new developments around the Bradley Center.

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