Shops of Grand Avenue owners reveal redevelopment plans

Office space would replace food court; grocery, urban market planned [PHOTO GALLERY]

Plans for the Shops of Grand Avenue incorporate the Matthews Building.

Last updated on May 15th, 2019 at 05:03 pm

The new owners of the Shops of Grand Avenue unveiled their vision Monday morning for the future of the downtown Milwaukee mall, which they believe will satisfy what the community has been asking for and what the market will support, while bringing the struggling mall into the 21st century.

The ambitious plan includes up to 120,000 square feet of office space on the second and third floors, which will eliminate the food court.

A grocery store is being sought after in the former 34,000-square-foot Linens ‘n Things space and an urban marketplace is planned on the mall’s first floor.

The new design would make the 293,596-square-foot enclosed mall at 275 W. Wisconsin Ave. more accessible to the public at several locations.

The space currently occupied by Applebee’s will remain a restaurant, but the space will be opened up to Wisconsin Avenue, with a large outdoor patio and rooftop dining.

“We want to make the property more inviting and  more accessible through the physical design as well as by creating uses that people find compelling,” said Chuck Biller, with Aggero Group, one of the mall’s owners. “We want to create a place of where the community can gather and linger and a place where everyone can find enjoyable and use throughout the day.”

The new design incorporates the Matthews Building, 301 W. Wisconsin Ave. The Aggero Group owns the first two floors of the building. The group  is envisioning another restaurant or café in that space, which was formally occupied by Office Max.

Currently, the entrance to the Matthews Building is off of 3rd Street. Biller said it will be moved to Wisconsin Avenue. And like the Applebee’s space, the restaurant will spill onto the street.

The mall’s ownership group is a joint venture between Milwaukee-based Aggero Group and Minneapolis-based Hempel Cos. In December, a group including those two firms and Tony Janowiec, who at the time was principal of Milwaukee-based Interstate Parking Co., purchased the mall for $24.5 million.

In March, the mall’s owners put together a development team for the mall that included members from TKWA UrbanLab, Colliers International , Mid-America Real Estate Group  and NEWaukee.

Janowiec said all of the mall’s current leases allow owners the flexibility to move forward with this project and pursue other tenants. The mall’s owners have been in negotiations with possible tenants, but needed to have renderings to show what the future mall could look like before moving forward, Janowiec said.

The second and third level of the mall will be converted to office space that will feature skylights, large floor plates and collaborative office space  – that are the former seating areas of the food court.

“We’ve blurred the lines between someone’s private office space and public space,” Janowiec said. “The whole (mall) was built to look inward, everything we are doing is going to make the project connect to all these amazing things and look outward.”

The office space, which could be used for a single or mulit-tenant, will not be built on spec – the mall owners have made it clear they will not move forward until a tenant has leased the space.

“We want someone to put their fingerprint on this,” Janowiec said. “There are endless ways to design this office space and there is a tremendous community story to tell. We want to provide something that is personalized.”

The owners are offering naming rights to the office user on 3rd Street, the parking structure and on the Plankinton Building.

“Big users of this project will have a great opportunity to increase their visibility and we think be a part of a project that the community is really enthused about, interested about and rallying around,” Biller said.

The former food court will be moved to the first floor, but will now be an urban marketplace, which will become fast casual, fast food, sit down dining, retail, a tap room and coffee shop.

“It will be a curious place where people want to see what is around the corner,” Janowiec said.

The amount of actual retail that will remain in the mall is unknown. Janowiec said it will be “substantial,” but less than there is now. He said the amount of retail square footage is dependent is how much office space is leased.

“It’s urban marketplace retail – stuff you can’t find any place else,” he said.

The owners say they are pursuing a grocery store for the Linens ‘n Things space because that is what people have asked for more than anything. The space is 34,000 square feet, plus a basement, two active loading docks, a vacated alley way and a connected covered parking structure.

The new owners also plan to install garage doors throughout the mall, including the window bays of the Linens ‘n Things so if a grocery store is built, it can be used like a farmers market in the summer along Wisconsin Avenue.

If a grocery store does not pan out, some other uses for that space that has been tossed around is beer: a beer hall, brew pub, and a production brewery. A local beer producer has expressed interest, Janowiec said.

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