Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:36 pm
Milwaukee is littered with the long-abandoned hulks of its industrial past. Properties such as the former Tower Automotive plant on the northwest side, the Solvay Coke site in the Walker’s Point neighborhood and the Pabst Brewery downtown have been vacant, in some cases, for decades.
Where thousands of people once worked at those factories, only pigeons, seagulls and rats take up residence now.
However, the story is far different for two industrial properties in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood, where a group of investors is finding new tenants and new uses for the former Louis Allis Co. and Metso Minerals complexes.
The two properties are managed by Industrial Properties LLC, which is recruiting tenants for industrial, warehousing, office and other uses at the two sites.
The former Louis Allis building is nearly 90 percent leased now, and the former Metso complex, now called the Chase Commerce Center, is about 40 percent leased, including new space leased by Bucyrus International Inc.
"I figure we’ve been successful at Louis Allis – we’ve brought about 250 jobs to Milwaukee with our repertoire of companies," said Mike Doro, one of the owners of the buildings. "And Bucyrus added another 80 to 100 jobs at the Chase Commerce Center. I’m hoping to add another 200-plus jobs here."
Industrial Properties LLC is owned equally by Robert Doro, his sons Mike and Scott, and son-in-law Brice Brown. Mike Doro and Brown manage the two facilities, handling the marketing and new leases and coordinating improvements and maintenance.
The Doro family did not set out to become commercial real estate investors.
Robert Doro is chief executive officer of Doral Corp., an industrial sheet metal and piping contractor based in the former Louis Allis facility at 427 E. Stewart St. Scott Doro is Doral’s president.
Louis Allis, a maker of large electric motors, closed its doors abruptly in October 1998. In 1999, Doral was hired to remove a large amount of machinery from the plant. Robert Doro happened to be looking for his own expansion space at the time.
"We needed an overhead crane and heavy industrial floors," he said. "While we were there (at Louis Allis), we learned that it was going to be sold."
Doral purchased the 507,000-square-foot facility at a bank foreclosure auction for about $1.36 million, Mike Doro said.
Doral occupies about half of the space at the Louis Allis facility. Because the company had to repair the building’s boilers, roof and other infrastructure, its executives decided that leasing out the remaining space would be the best way to recover some of those costs.
Both Mike Doro and Brown had formerly worked at Doral. Now, they work full-time in commercial real estate and handle leasing and operations of both facilities.
"I didn’t know much about (commercial real estate), creating leases or legal issues," Mike Doro said. "I got a crash course. I asked a lot of questions."
Today, the Louis Allis facility houses Doral, Rishi Tea, Allied Glove, artist Timothy Haglund, Kendor Marine Corp., Great Lakes Archeological Research Center and other tenants. Uses range from metal fabrication and warehousing to tea blending, packaging and mail order operations for boating accessories.
"There’s a perception that we’re a large manufacturing plant," Mike Doro said. "I’ve got an insurance company, engineers, contractors, a tea company and the Milwaukee Reparatory Theater stores pieces there."
In January 2005, the group purchased the 513,000-square-foot former Metso Minerals plant at Chase and Oklahoma avenues for about $4.8 million and transformed it into the Chase Commerce Center.
"At the time, Louis Allis was mostly full," Robert Doro said. "We liked the (commercial real estate) business. We had a good experience with Louis Allis, and we were ready to purchase another industrial property."
The Doro family had pre-negotiated with Bucyrus International, which committed to leasing about 130,000 square feet if they purchased the building.
"We were interested in keeping (the use) in manufacturing because we had these business relationships with possible tenants," Mike Doro said.
Doro and Brown are negotiating leases with four more tenants now, whom they declined to identify. The new leases would fill the remaining industrial space at the Chase Commerce Center.
The building’s three floors feature a working elevator, meeting spaces that still have good quality audio and video equipment suitable for training or information sessions, and each floor has a working safe vault for secure document storage.
Industrial Properties LLC plans to renovate the office space to fit tenants’ needs.
"One of our draws is that we can move fast," Mike Doro said. "If someone needs space in a week, chances are we can white-box their space for them within a week."
When State Disposal Services, a waste removal firm, wanted to move its sales, marketing and dispatch division into about 2,500 square feet of office space in the Chase Commerce Center just a few months ago, Industrial Properties’ crews were able to accommodate the company in about one week.
Many small businesses, artists and other studio users have moved from sites in the Historic Third Ward and Walker’s Point to the industrial buildings owned by Industrial Properties because the rent is cheaper, Mike Doro said.
"I’ve been getting a lot of calls from Walker’s Point and the Third Ward," Mike Doro said. "People have been paying cheap rent there for 20 years or more, and I’m the cost alternative now."
Industrial Properties is pondering new uses for some of the space at the Chase Commerce Center.
A section of the site that abuts Chase Avenue near its intersection with Oklahoma Avenue would be a good location for a restaurant, coffee shop or retail stores, Robert Doro said.
"With the high traffic count at that intersection, it’s very possible that retail could develop there," he said.
"I relate Bay View as the east side of the south side," Mike Doro said. "And there’s a six-acre parking lot on (the northeast) side of the building."
Until now, Industrial Properties has largely relied on word of mouth to advertise its available space. The group will soon start advertising its available office space, specifically to architects, start-up law firms, graphic design companies and telemarketing companies, Mike Doro said.
On the heels of its successes with the Louis Allis and Chase Commerce Center sites, Industrial Properties has already started looking for its next property to purchase.
"So far, our experience has been in industrial, but we will branch into commercial real estate, involving perhaps some retail," Robert Doro said. "We’re quite flexible. There could be some apartments in there. We’re trying to stick to what we know best, but it won’t hurt to stick our toe into some other markets."
Industrial Properties Reborn
Louis Allis Building Address: 427 E. Stewart St., Milwaukee
Square footage: 507,000 total (452,000 industrial, 55,000 office)
Key tenants: Doral Corp., Rishi Tea, Allied Glove, Kendor Marine Corp.
Recent leases signed: Allied Glove leased 35,000 square feet of warehouse and 3,500 square feet of office space.uilding
Chase Commerce Center
Address: 3073 S. Chase Ave.
Square footage: 513,000 total (437,000 industrial, 76,000 office)
Key tenants: Bucyrus International Inc., Metso Minerals, Kenney Construction Co., Metal Surgery, numerous small office tenants and several additional leases are pending.
Recent leases signed: Milwaukee Shakespeare Co. finalized a lease for 6,500 square feet of office and rehearsal space earlier this month. Hydraulic Repair & Engineering leased 9,000 square feet of industrial space several weeks ago. State Disposal leased about 2,500 square feet of office space several months ago. MacTech leased 10,000 square feet in September 2005 for office space and a machining showroom.