Small Business of the Year: J. Jeffers & Co.

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Rendering of the Journal Square project
Rendering of the Journal Square project

As Milwaukee and other southeastern Wisconsin communities continue seeing one major development project after another, a name that keeps popping up is J. Jeffers & Co.

The Milwaukee-based developer certainly kept busy in 2019, and things will likely stay that way in the years to come.

Just to name a few major events for the firm this year: it broke ground on the Huron Building, a new 11-story downtown Milwaukee office building; it purchased landmark Milwaukee buildings in downtown and the Walker’s Point neighborhood with plans to redevelop them; and commenced work on a historic renovation project called Gold Medal Lofts in Racine’s Uptown neighborhood.

Other, less visible changes have also occurred. The developer recently underwent a reorganization and realignment of its overall mission.

Josh Jeffers
Josh Jeffers

J. Jeffers & Co. is led by Josh Jeffers, president and chief executive officer, along with Danielle Bergner, chief operating officer and general counsel. Jeffers founded the company in 2012, and Bergner joined in July 2018 after leaving her post as managing partner of Milwaukee-based Michael Best & Friedrich LLP’s Milwaukee office.

“I think of myself, at least, as being an accidental entrepreneur,” Jeffers said.

Jeffers & Co. got its start after Jeffers lost his job at a private equity firm during the Great Recession. He decided at that time to attend graduate school, with a desire to get into real estate development.

His first projects as a Milwaukee real estate owner and developer involved buying duplexes in the city and rehabilitating them, thanks in part to assistance from the city’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

From there, he took on small commercial building projects, which led to bigger and bigger developments.

Now, Jeffers & Co. has gone from a one-man band to a 12-employee team executing $60 million to $90 million projects.

Jeffers said there are plenty of projects worth highlighting for the coming year, but there are three in particular that will be taking up much of the firm’s attention. They include the $60 million Huron Building at 511 N. Broadway, the redevelopment of the Journal Sentinel buildings on the block southeast of West State Street and Vel R. Phillips Avenue, and the redevelopment of the former Horlick Malted Milk Co. complex in Racine.

Each of those projects stands to transform the area where they’re located, Jeffers said. However, he expects the Horlick project to have a significant and lasting impact on the entire community.

“It’s one of the most exciting projects we have, and I think it will end up being a massively catalytic project in Racine,” Jeffers said.

The $91 million redevelopment project will include more than 300 affordable and market-rate apartments, commercial space and a job training center for union trades. It will be a mix of historic preservation and new construction.

Work on Journal Square, meanwhile, won’t start until the newspaper’s lease expires at the end of 2020. But Jeffers in late fall revealed plans to convert the main building into as many as 203 housing units. Plans for the remaining buildings are in the works. Jeffers said he anticipates the entire redevelopment to total around $115 million.

Jeffers is also co-developer for the Milwaukee Athletic Club’s $70 million renovation project.

Jeffers said that, after Bergner joined the firm, they spent months thinking about the direction of Jeffers & Co. Over roughly the past year, they’ve “intentionally deconstructed the whole business” and built it back up under that new vision, he said.

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