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Mixed-use development districts anchored by major professional sports teams are becoming more common across the country. Two of Wisconsin’s top pro teams, the Green Bay Packers and Milwaukee Bucks, have joined the trend in recent years with their own development projects, the Titletown District adjacent to Lambeau Field in Green Bay and the Deer District around Fiserv Forum in downtown Milwaukee.
But what about the Milwaukee Brewers? It so happens that a massive site in West Milwaukee not far from American Family Field will be vacated next year and in play for redevelopment. It also happens that the community is open to creating a sports-centered destination district there.
Komatsu Mining Corp. plans to move out of its West Milwaukee campus, located at 4400 W. National Ave., sometime next year after it completes its new headquarters in Milwaukee’s Harbor District.
West Milwaukee officials have already laid out a long-term redevelopment vision for the Komatsu site and this spring voted to rezone the property and surrounding parcels to allow for a mix of uses.
It’s clear the Brewers are invited to the table.
“This redevelopment could be pursued in partnership with the Milwaukee Brewers and incorporate experiences for baseball fans and park visitors all year round,” the village states in its comprehensive plan.
What isn’t clear is whether the team will play ball. The Brewers declined to comment.
Sports districts on the rise
Even if the Brewers don’t want to publicly ponder the idea, recent trends suggest the timing makes sense if they so choose to plunge into real estate development. (“Brewers Block” has a nice ring to it.)
Major professional sports teams nationwide are creating mixed-use districts to complement games and other events happening in their stadiums.
Green Bay’s Titletown has a variety of entertainment attractions, a hotel and apartments, among other things. The Deer District already has an entertainment block, a training facility and clinic and an apartment building. More is on the way, including a hotel, office building and additional housing.
Bucks president Peter Feigin said these development districts are a natural extension of what sports organizations do: create activity around something and bring people together.
“We are an event and hospitality company,” he said at a recent Marquette University event on sports and real estate. “So, (we have) the ability to build these neighborhoods in districts where people work, live and play.”
Mike Plant, president and chief executive officer of the Atlanta Braves’ Braves Development Co., said these districts differ from typical mixed-use projects because the teams that create them have a direct interest in their operations. The group controls the 60-acre district called The Battery, with Truist Park (the Braves stadium that opened in 2017) at its center.
“We’re not traditional developers of building something and then flipping it, moving on and building something else,” Plant said. “We have a vested financial operational interest.”
A home-run opportunity?
West Milwaukee leaders adopted a new comprehensive plan in 2019. The plan outlines their vision for the so-called Gateway District. Then in March, the village board voted to rezone the Komatsu site and neighboring parcels to reflect that long-term version.
The new zoning district allows for a mix of uses, including housing, entertainment, hospitality, retail and restaurants, and recreational. It also calls for a new network of public and private roads connected to the existing village street grids.
West Milwaukee also intends for the zoning change to prevent another large industrial company from taking over the area, according to village documents.
Village president John Stalewski said it is too early in the process to speak in detail. Komatsu still owns the site and any discussion between it and the village have been “only informal,” Stalewski said in an email. He added the site should benefit from its proximity to the ballpark.
Patrick Singleton, National Avenue redevelopment director for Komatsu, said the company is considering its options for the site and supported the village rezoning efforts.
Local developers find the site intriguing.
Stu Wangard, chairman and CEO of Wauwatosa-based Wangard Partners Inc., said West Milwaukee’s actions are similar to what’s happening in other communities.
“There’s interesting national trends that basically follow a site like this,” he said. “We’ve seen the city of West Allis, city of Greenfield and some of the cities in Racine and Kenosha counties request major retail and hospitality as part of their projects.”
Milwaukee-based Cobalt Partners LLC specializes in the sort of development the village wants at the Komatsu site, company CEO Scott Yauck said. He said the project would need significant assistance from the village due to its current state.
“It will be expensive, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be done at all,” he said. “Because I think it’s an area that could support good density and significant redevelopment value. I imagine you could put $200 million-plus in development at that location.”