Signs of life on the far northwest side

A struggling part of Milwaukee is finally showing signs of a positive turnaround.

The area near the former Northridge Mall, and especially the Brown Deer Road corridor, has been in decline for years. The neighborhood decline has been accelerated ever since the mall’s closing in 2003. Several other stores near the mall closed in recent years.

But the recent news that Penzeys Spices is buying the mall and several other developments coming to the area are signs that the far northwest side of Milwaukee may finally be ready for a turnaround.

“It’s really kind of an exciting time,” said Mark Krause, president of Krause Funeral Homes and chairman of the board for the Granville Business Improvement District, a new BID that was established recently and is named after the area’s origin as the Town of Granville. “We have a bunch of very positive things going on.”

Walmart plans to open a store in the former Lowe’s store building at 6300 W. Brown Deer Road.

The most noteworthy is Penzeys acquisition of the former Northridge mall property, located northwest of Brown Deer Road and North 76th Street. The company has not announced specific plans for the former mall, but director of marketing and advertising Bob Bourgeois said the Penzeys corporate office, currently located in a 90,000-square-foot building at 19300 W. Janacek Ct. in Brookfield, will probably be moved to the former mall.

When asked if the former Northridge property could become the company’s corporate headquarters, Bourgeois said that is unclear at this point. “It could be,” he said. “We like the city of Milwaukee.”

Penzeys has a 300,000-square-foot facility at 12001 W. Capitol Dr. in Wauwatosa, which is used for production and is currently considered the company’s headquarters. That space has been maxed out, Bourgeois said.

Penzeys Spices is buying the former Northridge Mall and is working on plans for the property, including the relocation of its corporate offices from Brookfield.

“We need more space,” he said.

Penzeys could use the former mall for production and it could have a culinary center with an educational and retail component, said Krause and Mary Hoehne, executive director for the BID.

ETE Reman Inc. will move its operations from 8155 N. 76th St., Milwaukee, to the former Walmart store at 8700 N. Servite Dr., just off of Brown Deer Road.

“(Penzeys) has got a pretty blank canvas,” Krause said.

“Our space needs (at Northridge) will be dictated by growth,” Bourgeois said.

Bourgeois said it will be “at least a year” before Penzeys announces its plans for the former mall.

In the meantime, other major business developments are coming to the far northwest side of Milwaukee.

The Balistreri-owned Sendik’s Food Markets recently announced plans to move its corporate offices and its warehouse operations to a 208,000-square-foot building at 7225 W. Marcia Road in Milwaukee. The building has 173,000 square feet of warehouse space and 35,000 square feet of office space. Sendik’s will move 40-45 employees from its current corporate office next to its Whitefish Bay store and about 10 employees from its warehouse operations at its Greenfield store to the Milwaukee building.

“We want to be in Milwaukee for a long time,” said Sendik’s spokesman Nick Bandoch. “We’re a growing company. We need more space for our office and for our warehouse. We will be able to consolidate and plan for future growth.”

A vacant former Walmart store and a vacant former Lowe’s store along Brown Deer Road will get new tenants.

Walmart plans to convert the former Lowe’s store at 6300 W. Brown Deer Road in Brown Deer into a Walmart supercenter store. The Lowe’s store closed in 2011.

In 2012, Walmart closed its discount store at 8700 N. Servite Dr., Milwaukee, a site that is southwest of Brown Deer Road and North 76th Street. Walmart replaced that store with a new store that it opened in Timmerman Plaza at 10330 W. Silver Spring Dr., Milwaukee, six miles southwest of the store on Servite Drive. The Timmerman Plaza store is a supercenter store with a grocery department, which the store on Servite Drive did not have.

The Brown Deer Walmart store will also have a grocery department.

ETE Reman Inc., a remanufacturer of transmissions and transfer cases for cars and trucks, plans to move its operations from 8155 N. 76th St., Milwaukee, to the former Walmart store on Servite Drive. The company said it will have 300 employees in the facility.

Commercial real estate property values on the far northwest side could also be on the rise. Hendricks Commercial Properties, an affiliate of Beloit-based Hendricks Holding Co. Inc., recently purchased a 68,675-square-foot industrial building at 11200 W. Heather Ave. on the far northwest side of Milwaukee for $3.95 million, or about $57.51 per square foot. The building, constructed in 2000, has an assessed value of $2.5 million, according to city records. The building is occupied by Elk Grove Village, Ill.-based FPM Heat Treating.

The industrial parks on the far northwest side already have a significant business presence

“The depth of companies here is amazing,” Hoehne said.

But the area has been hurt by a negative perception from the closure of Northridge and stores such as Walmart and Lowe’s Krause and Hoehne said. The area also struggles with a negative perception about crime, but crime in the area is lower than in many other parts of the city, they said.

“We get reports from the police,” Hoehne said. “When you compare our (BID) to the other districts we definitely have less crime than (most of) the other districts.”

“One of the biggest issues up here has been the perception versus reality,” Krause said. “Crime up here is less than most other parts of the city.”

BIDs are able to assess a special tax and use the funds collected for projects to improve the district. The Granville BID is using the funds (it has an annual budget of about $300,000) to improve upkeep and beautify medians, for block watch safety initiatives and for promotional efforts to improve the area’s image.

Considering the area’s image problems, Penzey’s biggest contribution to the neighborhood could be a boost in the public perception about the area, Krause and Hoehne said.

“It’s such a huge shot in the arm for what we’ve been trying to accomplish for the last 10 years,” Krause said.

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