Redevelopment projects boost Harambee neighborhood

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Two historic rehabilitation projects of vacant buildings added 107 affordable apartments to Milwaukee’s Harambee neighborhood in October.

The former Nunn Bush shoe factory at 2812 N. Fifth St. and 2821 N. Vel R. Phillips Ave. has been transformed into the Welford Sanders Historic Lofts & Enterprise Center.

Ted Matkom, Wisconsin market president at Gorman & Co., stands outside the Fifth Street School Apartments

The $21 million project includes 59 housing units for job-seeking veterans. The project is a joint venture between Martin Luther King Economic Development Corp. and Wisconsin Redevelopment LLC.

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Adjoining the property is the second project, the redevelopment of the former Fifth Street School, which was purchased by Oregon, Wisconsin-based Gorman & Co. in 2015.

The building, a former three-story school which opened in 1888 and received additions in 1908 and 1958, presented a perfect opportunity for an adaptive reuse project, said Ted Matkom, Wisconsin market president for Gorman & Co.

The 67,795-square-foot property hadn’t been used as a school since the late 1970s. It was later leased to the city’s health department and a portion of the building was used as the Isaac Coggs Community Health Center until 2006.

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Gorman’s $9.7 million project preserved the building’s exterior Romanesque Revival style created by prominent local architect H.P. Schnetzky. The interior has been transformed into 48 affordable housing units with a mix of studios, one- and two-bedroom apartments for low-income seniors.

“We specialize in schools and we like adaptive reuse, but this one was special because we’ve never worked on a building this old before,” Matkom said. “It was an interesting design and construction experience, but we love the architecture.”

The Fifth Street School Apartments is Gorman & Co.’s fourth conversion of a former school.

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In 2013, Gorman transformed the former Jackie Robinson Middle School at 3245 N. 37th St., Milwaukee, into the Sherman Park Senior Living Community. The 118,754-square-foot former school in the Sherman Park neighborhood was built in 1926 and closed in 2005. It now provides 68 apartment units for low-income seniors.

Gorman & Co. has completed similar projects in Sheboygan, with the Washington School Apartments, and in Moline, Illinois at a former high school.

“(Older) schools (were) designed to be located in a densely-populated neighborhood,” Matkom said. “So the housing works perfect as an infill because people are already living there. It’s a great concept.”

Estelle Bridgewaters, a member of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church, which shares a parking lot with the Fifth Street School Apartments, praised the project and the Welford Sanders Historic Lofts for bringing more life into the neighborhood.

“I think this is a great opportunity for the neighborhood,” she said. “It will be terrific to not have the buildings as eyesores anymore.”

Gary Gorman, who started Gorman & Co. in 1984, said his first historic rehab project was in the small town of Evansville, Wisconsin. It was a 24-unit project called Seminary Park Apartments, which the company still owns.

“The complexity was ridiculous,” Gorman said. “It was the first (tax increment financing) in Evansville. We had 35 investors. I think I made $1.50 an hour. But I didn’t care. We established the credibility of being able to get something done.”

The Fifth Street School Apartments is Gorman’s 116th project in seven states.

“The reason I left my law practice is I wanted to have a career where at the end of the day, I could say I make a difference,” Gorman said. “Doing projects like this, you change communities. You improve people’s lives, and you make a living at the same time. It’s as good as it gets.”

Rocky Marcoux, commissioner for the Milwaukee Department of City Development, said the Fifth Street School  Apartments is another example of Gorman & Co. taking on a tough development project in terms of putting together a complex capital stack that involves historic buildings and doing what is right in the community.

Marcoux also pointed to the 500 homes in the central city Gorman has purchased and redeveloped over the past 10 years.

“These are very challenging properties and they buy them clustered within neighborhoods for maximum impact,” Marcoux said. “Wherever Gorman has worked, the company has brought a lot of value to the community.”

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