Second Phase Planned for King Drive Development

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:37 pm

The latest development project for the northern section of Martin Luther King Drive will break ground later this year. Work on King Commons II, a $5.3 million mixed use development at the southwest corner of North Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and West Hadley Street, will

likely start in October or November, said Welford Sanders, executive director of the Martin Luther King Economic Development Corp. (MLKEDC), which is the developer for the project.

MLKEDC provides technical assistance to businesses in the Harambee area, develops commercial space for small business development and expansion, develops affordable rental and owner occupied housing, and supports other initiatives that help the community.

King Commons II will feature at least 2,000 square feet of commercial space, intended for neighborhood retail or service type businesses, in one building Sanders said. The bulk of the project will be 24 units of three-bedroom rental homes. Some of those homes will be single-family, others will be town homes and still others will be split-level. Seven of the 24 housing units will be built along West Hadley Street, just west of the commercial building which will be on the corner of Hadley and King Drive. The remaining units will be scattered among vacant lots in the adjacent neighborhood, Sanders said.

MLKEDC has developed three buildings along the northern section of King Drive so far – the Ameritech Commerce Center at 2745 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, a Ponderosa Steakhouse at 2740 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, and King Commons I at the southeast corner of King and Hadley.

King Commons I is a three-story building with about 5,000 square feet of commercial space and 18 apartments above it. The commercial space houses the Harambee Ombudsman Project Inc., a non-profit neighborhood improvement group, and Flair Designs, a beauty salon. Flair Designs moved from 7532 W. Appleton Ave. to King Commons I during the Memorial Day weekend.

The Harambee Ombudsman Project Inc. takes up about 2,000 square feet of space, while Flair Designs uses about 1,600 square feet. There is a remaining 1,500 square foot space that MLKECD is still working to lease, Sanders said.

MLKEDC has devoted resources to redeveloping the northern section of King Drive since the late 1990s because the southern section of the street, closer to the downtown area, has redeveloped on its own.

“The northern portion of King Drive has not had the same level of reinvestment,” Sanders said. “The idea was to shore up the area near North Avenue and King Drive, to build from there. (Redevelopment) then went to the south.

“Then how do you push it to the north? You do it by developing some strategic, catalytic projects. We did (the Ameritech Commerce Center), Ponderosa and then King Commons I, to continue the momentum. You begin also to help create new demand because of new housing and new facilities.”

The King Commons II project will be funded through an allocation with the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, granted by the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA). The credits will be included in Section 42 of the Internal Revenue Code, a dollar-for-dollar credit that can be used to attract investors because it allows them to reduce federal taxes.

David Luedcke, multi-family development officer with WHEDA, said the tax credits will be given out over a two-year period. MLKEDC will receive tax credits worth $3.7 million this year, and the agency can apply for the remaining credits it needs next year. In the interim, WHEDA may be able to loan MLKEDC the balance of funds, if needed.

WHEDA helped fund King Commons I and another housing project in the area that MKLEDC did not develop. Because the projects involve neighborhood redevelopment, they fall within WHEDA’s mission, Luedcke said.

“Those type of deals work out nicely,” he said. “They generate taxes for the city on a vacant lot and in an area that housing is needed. And they’re smaller developments, where you only have 24 to 36 units of nice affordable housing.”

King Commons II will be designed by Milwaukee-based Miller Architectural Group, and New Berlin-based Titan Building will serve as general contractor, Sanders said. Both companies worked on King Commons I, a mixed-use project on the east side of King Drive opposite where King Commons II will be built. The contractors’ experience with the first development will be crucial with King Commons II, Sanders said, because the project will need to stay within its budget.

“(Contractors) have to have a general comfort with those plans as they develop and a comfort with the general concept,” he said. “And an experienced contractor will know the code requirements and other issues. The subcontracts will get bid out, and that’s where we can get some good numbers for minority and (emerging business enterprise) vendors. We’re looking at 30 to 40 percent possible participation on some projects.”

When King Commons II gathers more steam and its commercial spaces are filled, Sanders said the group will begin turning its attention to the areas north and south of the 2700 block of King Drive, where the MLKEDC has focused most of its attention.

One of those sites is the Patterson Tire property in the 2800 block of King Drive. The property’s status for development is in question now because of litigation, but MLKEDC would like to see it redeveloped as a grocery store.

The corporation is also hoping to find an appropriate site to develop a year-round produce market, where it could partner with Growing Power, a Milwaukee-based nonprofit dedicated to teaching people about organic foods and urban farming.

“Now, everything along the street is all for sale or is being bought,” Sanders said. “As we settle down with King Commons Phase II, we can look to the south and north of us. We can tackle some of the blocks and buildings that will require more heavy lifting.”

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