The Hawthorne Square development planned in Thiensville has a meaning that runs deeper than the confines of the project itself.
For the developers, NexJenn Real Estate LLC, it is the latest iteration of their family’s history of owning the prime site. For the village, it is the starting point of the greater redevelopment of Thiensville’s northern stretch of downtown.
Hawthorne Square is a $24 million mixed-use development planned southeast of Freistadt Road and Main Street in the community of one square mile and roughly 3,200 residents. Once built, the development will include 89 residential units and approximately 14,000 square feet of commercial space. The new buildings are to go up on vacant land around the existing Walgreens store at the hard corner of Freistadt Road and Main Street.
Trish Ullrich and Maggie Beach, sisters and partners of Wauwatosa-based NexJenn Real Estate, are developing Hawthorne Square. The land where it will be developed is owned by their father, Leander Jennings, and has been owned by the family reaching back to 1966.
It once was home to a neighborhood shopping center that included a Walgreens, Kohl’s grocery store and liquor store. Leander Jennings developed the shopping center with the help of his father, David Jennings.
The shopping center was demolished roughly 20 years ago, after Walgreens moved out of it and onto the corner. Leander Jennings said the shopping center became dated, as Kohl’s got out of the grocery business, and grocery stores altogether grew in size and wanted to sell their own liquor.
“The whole complex was changing,” Leander Jennings said. “We knew we had lost Kohl’s, and (the liquor store) closed, so we said, ‘The heck with it.’ We knew we were going to have to do something different here.”
Leander Jennings and his brother Phillip Jennings remained owners of the property until 2017, when Leander bought him out, paving the way to build something on the site, Ullrich said.
The development is backed in part by tax incremental financing from Thiensville. The $9.9 million village spending plan is for developer incentives, property acquisition, environmental audits and remediation, demolition work and street and utility improvements.
It is Thiensville’s second TIF district in its history. Village leaders plan to use its financing to encourage development around the intersection of Freistadt and Main, even beyond Hawthorne Square.
“I think the TIF district as a whole should be viewed as a continuation of the village of Thiensville’s redevelopment efforts that have been going on for about 10 years,” village president Van Mobley said.
Part of the strategy involves the village acquiring nearby parcels in order to have greater control over what happens there. Mobley noted the village recently acquired the Chinese restaurant northwest of the intersection. The village will continue buying properties as they become available but is in no hurry and not actively pressuring property owners to sell, he said.
Village leaders have an idea of what they’d like to see developed in the area.
“Hawthorne Square is a mixed-use development; I could foresee being kitty-corner to that something similar,” village administrator Colleen Landisch-Hansen said, referring to the northwest corner of the intersection. “As we get farther west down Freistadt, I could see that being more residential, maybe multi-family.”
Village leaders point to the Pigeon Creek project, which commenced in 2009 as a catalyst that encouraged several commercial developments to occur at Main Street’s southern end. The infrastructure project widened the Pigeon Creek channel to help control flooding.
Ullrich declined to provide a target groundbreaking and completion date on Hawthorne Square. She said NexJenn has been speaking with construction firms, and a groundbreaking will depend on their contractor. They want to time the 12- to 14-month construction project so it finishes in the spring or summer months.
The longevity in ownership of the site, and the dedication to redeveloping it amid changes in the demands of the market, makes NexJenn unique, Leander Jennings said.
“We are a different form of developer,” he said. “When we develop something, we put our heart into it, and we develop it not only for today, but for tomorrow and tomorrow’s tomorrow.” n
It’s this approach and the multiple generations of family involvement that inspired the firm’s name.
“That’s why we love the name of our company, NexJenn, because it truly is (the next generation),” Ullrich said. “My partner Maggie Beach and I are third-generation real estate people, and some of us have children who are getting into real estate when they graduate from college. I’ve loved my career in real estate for all those years, so I’m excited some of our kids might see the joy, the creativity, all the avenues one can explore in real estate.”