As more employees are returning to work in offices, Milwaukee-based based Irgens Partners LLC is moving forward with a major new office development project.
The company broke ground this month on the first of four structures it hopes to construct at the UWM Innovation Campus in Wauwatosa, located northeast of Interstate 41 and Watertown Plank Road. The three-story, 70,000-square-foot office building is dubbed Innovation 1. Irgens itself will be the first tenant in the building. The move means the company will no longer be occupying space at its 833 East building in downtown Milwaukee. It will, however, maintain an office at the BMO Tower.
After nearly four years of governmental reviews and approvals, including agreements for developer assistance totaling about $17 million, the company last month purchased 25 acres of land on the campus from the UWM Real Estate Foundation for $5.26 million.
Split across two sections – 16 acres on the north end of the campus and another 9 acres on the south end – the development will be approached in stages.
Development on the north end will include the three-story Innovation 1 office building; a two-story, 633-stall parking structure with a green roof; and the six-story, 178,000-square-foot Innovation Overlook office building, slated to be constructed once Irgens has a pre-tenant agreement in place.
Both of the office buildings will also have underground parking: Innovation 1 with 22 spaces and Innovation Overlook with 88. The buildings are designed by Kahler Slater and will be constructed by C.G. Schmidt, both based in Milwaukee.
The southern parcel is being marketed as a corporate or regional headquarters site that could be for a building as large as 225,000 square feet. That site also includes the Milwaukee County Parks Administration Building, which is already being leased back to the department.
Choosing the UWM Innovation Campus for the company’s first major post-COVID office development made sense on several levels, said Tom Irgens, executive vice president at Irgens Partners.
Having completed the 85,278-square-foot Muir Woods project in late 2018, the last of its many developments in the Milwaukee County Research Park (located southeast of I-41 and Watertown Plank Road), the company thought there might be an opportunity to develop land at the nearby UWM Innovation Campus, especially given the ongoing demand it was seeing at its Research Park properties, said Irgens.
Irgens Partners, which owns about one million square feet of office space at the Research Park, recently signed four new leases with tenants at its buildings there. Those include leases with new tenants and tenants that have expanded their footprints.
The location of the UWM Innovation Campus itself also made it a logical choice.
“I think as people are looking at trying to bring back their team members (to their offices), commutes play into it,” Irgens said, adding that the $1.7 billion Zoo Interchange expansion project included improvements to the freeway interchanges at Highway 100 and at Watertown Plank Road, which have helped make commutes to the UWM Innovation Campus easier.
To help attract employers, the new buildings at the Innovation Campus will include new HVAC systems as well as fitness centers with showers and lockers. Innovation 1 will also have a grand staircase designed to give the building a more open feel and encourage people to take the stairs, instead of using the single elevator planned for the structure.
What should also draw employers and their workers, Irgens said, is the development’s focus on green infrastructure and site stewardship.
Already close to bike and pedestrian trails, the northern site is located near a habitat for migrating monarch butterflies.
“We are cognizant of the fact that these former county grounds are a sacred place for a lot of people,” said Andrea Mullins, vice president of development at Irgens Partners. “We want to make sure that we are (developing these lands) in a responsible way.”
The biggest green element of the development is the green roof planned for the parking structure. At 60,000 square feet, it is expected to be one the largest green roofs in Wisconsin. Solar panels on the roof of the garage are also expected to generate enough energy to power the structure.
“What we have been able to accomplish with the help of Milwaukee County and the City of Wauwatosa is to have a truly shovel-ready site, and the thing that will really bring the project forward is users who want a great location,” Irgens said