Those partnering in the redevelopment of a South Milwaukee commercial building and public gathering space expect the project will have a broad impact on its downtown, while also honoring the city’s manufacturing history.
In February, city officials revealed details of the planned renovation of the commercial building at 1919 12th Ave. and the development of a public space a couple blocks away, where 11th and Madison avenues meet.
The public-private effort is made possible through a $2 million donation from the Bucyrus Foundation. The city owns both the commercial building and public space. Also involved are Skyline Catering Inc. and the South Milwaukee Industrial Museum LLC, both of which will occupy portions of the commercial building. Skyline Catering will run an event space on the first floor, while the museum would be based primarily on the second floor.
“We’re hoping that this becomes the catalyst for some type of downtown redevelopment,” said Bob Jelinek, director and chairman of the South Milwaukee Industrial Museum.
The building will undergo $3 million in renovations and be renamed the Bucyrus Club.
Ernie Wunsch, owner of Skyline Catering, said the event venue could hold up to 500 people, or could hold two events at once in separate rooms. The space is being white boxed for Skyline Catering, which will invest some of its own money for improvement work and also pay rent to the city.
There will be a main banquet room that could hold between 250 and 300 people. That room features cream city brick building materials, arched windows and high ceilings.
“If you want to have that really special wedding or function, you’re going to want to take that room,” Wunsch said.
Another room, formerly used as a small bowling alley, will hold around 150. A former restaurant space in between could hold about another 150. Wunsch said the restaurant/bar area can be rented out for small lunch or dinner gatherings, and will also be open for Friday night fish fries.
Jelinek said though the museum will be on the second floor, it will have displays throughout the building. He also has plans to set up displays elsewhere in the community, including at the nearby public space at 11th and Madison.
The project was a convergence of each party’s needs, South Milwaukee Mayor Erik Brooks said. The city wanted something done with the building, Skyline Catering had longed to set up an event venue space and the museum was in need of a home since it was removed from its former home on the Bucyrus campus.
“I’ve been involved with finding a home for this South Milwaukee museum since December 2016 when Caterpillar closed the original museum,” Jelinek said.
Caterpillar acquired Bucyrus in 2011 and over time has dramatically reduced operations at the South Milwaukee campus.
Jelinek said he still has 95% of what was on display in the original museum, and has replaced all but a small portion of the other items. In all, the museum has about 8,500 items catalogued.
Of course, the city has big plans for the nearby public space as well. It will pay homage to the city’s manufacturing heritage in some way, though details are still being worked out. City leaders are seeking public comment in shaping details for the space, but preliminary thoughts include permanent facilities to support special events and daily users, as well as historical features evoking the manufacturing history of the city.
Earlier this year, the city hired Madison-based landscape architect Saiki Design to help design the space. Brooks said Saiki was selected from 16 respondents to a request for proposals.
The redevelopment plan is just the latest effort by the city to reimagine its downtown, which officials hope will draw in new businesses and visitors.
Brooks noted a streetscaping project is underway to give downtown a new look, and city leaders created a tax incremental financing district to facilitate a number of projects. In fact, the city has had its eye on redeveloping the Bucyrus Club building back to at least the time Brooks became mayor in 2014, he said.
“I’m happy with where things are going,” Brooks said. “Progress never happens fast enough for me, but we are making progress, and slow and steady progress is still progress. … We think this project in and of itself will help that as well.”