Robert Joseph planning apartment development in Third Ward

Purchasing Milwaukee Blacksmith building and adjacent structure

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Milwaukee developer Robert Joseph, founder of Joseph Property Development LLC, is assembling a site on the south end of the Historic Third Ward, including the building that Milwaukee Blacksmith has been leasing, for a new apartment development.

Robert Joseph
Robert Joseph

Joseph has an option to purchase the Milwaukee Blacksmith building, a 7,950-square-foot, 70-year-old building at 518-520 E. Erie St., and an 18,110-square-foot, 127-year-old building at 538 E. Erie St., from William Hansen, chief executive officer of Hansen Storage Company for an undisclosed amount. The deal is expected to close in early summer.

The properties have a total assessed value of $888,300, according to city records.

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Joseph, who has completed a number of development projects in the Third Ward, said when the opportunity to purchase this site came up, he jumped at the chance.

“I’m playing with layouts to see how I can use the land most efficiently,” Joseph said, adding that he will eventually tear down the Milwaukee Blacksmith building and the building to the south, which is currently used as a parking garage for about 60 cars.

“I’m not rushing anything,” Joseph said. “I know there has been some overbuilding of apartments, but I believe the Third Ward is still a place where apartments can be built.”

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Milwaukee developer Robert Joseph has the Milwaukee Blacksmith building under contract.
Milwaukee developer Robert Joseph has the Milwaukee Blacksmith building under contract.

Joseph does not have a specific plan or layout for the development, but said if he moves forward on an apartment development at the site, which is bordered by East Erie Street, North Jackson Street and East Summerfest Place, it will likely be a five to six-story apartment complex.

Joseph is currently redeveloping the 26,400-square-foot four-story Jennaro Bros. building at 322 N. Broadway in the Third Ward into an office building with first floor retail.

His other Third Ward developments include 301 Commission Row, 301-315 N. Broadway, The Gas & Light Building, 117 N. Jefferson St., The Landmark Building, 316 N. Milwaukee St., Chicago Street Lofts, 200 North Water St., and Lofts on Broadway, 191 N. Broadway St.

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Milwaukee-based Mandel Group, Inc. is currently building the six-story, 132-unit DoMUS apartment complex along the Milwaukee River in the 300 block of East Erie Street, kitty-corner from the Milwaukee Blacksmith building.

Milwaukee Blacksmith owner Kent Knapp told BizTimes in December that he and his family, the stars of a reality TV show that aired on the History channel last fall, were actively searching for a new location for their business.

The pending sale of their current building is forcing the family business to move out much sooner than anticipated, Knapp said.

“The building was for sale the entire time we were in it,” Knapp said. “We always knew this might be a reality. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to financially plan for it as we had hoped.”

Right now, the family is about $25,000 short of making the move a reality, he said, but they received an email from their landlord (Hansen) earlier this month informing them they would need to vacate the premises by Feb. 20.

“I have not received a formal timeline yet,” Knapp said. “There was no actual paperwork filed. We’re hoping to get out in time for them to be able to do what they need to do.”

As of this week, the business had not left 518 E. Erie St.

Knapp created a $25,000 Kickstarter campaign to raise money to help facilitate the move. So far, the campaign has raised more than $10,500.

In December, Knapp was looking at a roughly 15,000-square-foot property in Walker’s Point, which would make it about three times larger than Milwaukee Blacksmith’s current space.

On Tuesday morning, Knapp said he is no longer pursuing that property and is instead much more interested in a property near Kinnickinick Avenue in Bay View that is also around 15,000 square feet. He declined to reveal specific details about the property and its location.

“About a month and a half ago, we noticed (soil) samplings happening around the building, so we just assumed something was going on and we started pursuing a new place even harder,” Knapp said.

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