Real Estate Spotlight: How some developers collaborate with communities on their projects

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Milwaukee developers who shape their projects based on the needs and desires of the surrounding community say that, in doing so, both the neighborhood and the project itself reap significant rewards.

Their strategies involve seeking community input from various stakeholders at the project’s beginning stages and working that feedback into the resulting development.

For Haywood Group LLC, “the community input is the starting point,” said Kalan Haywood, president of the Milwaukee-based firm.

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Haywood is redeveloping the former Sears building at the northwest corner of Fond du Lac and North avenues in Milwaukee into the 80-room Ikon Hotel and 24,600-square-foot conference center. The project will also include a first-floor incubator and office space. Construction and abatement continues on the project, though it has been slowed during the coronavirus outbreak.

As is the case with the majority of Haywood Group’s projects, the Ikon started with an incoming phone call. The area business community and the city wanted something to be done with that vacant building, which sits at a prominent intersection on the city’s north side.

“We usually are called into projects,” Haywood said. “Sometimes that’s by the local elected officials, sometimes it’s by the BID (business improvement district) or a neighborhood stakeholder, and they say for example, ‘We have a problem.’ We approach developments from that standpoint. We try to address a problem.”

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At the center of the Ikon project is the conference center, Haywood said. North Avenue Marketplace BID No. 32 commissioned a third-party study looking into how dollars were leaking out of the neighborhood. One major area was hosting events. Neighborhood residents and organizations were holding their events elsewhere. The neighborhood lacks a suitable venue to hold events.

“(The project) was kind of in reverse, because we were looking to solve the issue of, how do we keep those dollars?” Haywood said.

Anthony Kazee, owner of Milwaukee-based KG Development, said he took his vision for a new mixed-use building in the city’s Five Points neighborhood directly to local residents and businesses.

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KG Development is working with Martin Luther King Economic Development Corp. to develop a 75,350-square-foot building at 3317-3349 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, which will include 57 housing units and 12,000 square feet of commercial space. Outdoor amenities could include a basketball court and playground.

Kazee said he visited about 60 households and 10 businesses over a week. This was both to introduce the development to neighbors and get input on what they wanted to see come out of it. It also helped build trust with residents for the project, he said.

“I think it allows them to see your vision, and also allows you to get some feedback on your design,” Kazee said.

The project reflects the community’s feedback in a number of ways, particularly with its proposed commercial uses.

Kazee said the commercial portion will consist in part of a maker space, which can be used in accordance with whatever the community’s needs are. Also included will be “micro-retail” spaces, which can be divided up to as small as 250-300 square feet. These micro spaces could be used for local entrepreneurs who are still building up their business but want a physical presence.

“We’re trying to be a service developer, or a people developer,” he said.

KG is seeking tax credits for the project and construction could begin next year.

Ryan Pattee, president of Milwaukee-based Pattee Group LLC, makes it a point to pursue projects outside of downtown. Current and recent projects of his include redeveloping the building at 3060 S. 13th St. into a tea shop and manufacturing space for Urbal Tea and another at 3528-30 W. National Ave. for Salvadorian restaurant Pupuseria la Chalateca.

Each project follows a similar path. Pattee chooses a neighborhood he wants to work in, finds a building, seeks feedback from local stakeholders and completes market research.

“If we have a building in mind, during our due diligence process, we’re speaking with the BIDs, we’re speaking with the NIDs (neighborhood improvement districts), we’re speaking with the aldermen and we’re doing our own research of businesses in that area,” he said.

Pattee recently sold the building at 733 W. Historic Mitchell St. to the advocacy group Voces de la Frontera. After purchasing it last year and performing work on the roof, electrical and mechanical systems, he held onto the building for six months while Voces raised the money to buy it. Pattee still owns and is rehabilitating a neighboring building.

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