When Todd Reardon, founding chairman of the South 27th Street Business Improvement District, heard Water Street Brewery had chosen to open its fourth location in Oak Creek, he reached out to the restaurant’s owner to ask, “Why there?”
Reardon, who also owns the Braeger Ford and Braeger Chevrolet dealerships, both located on South 27th Street, said the response he received was simple: “The mayor of Oak Creek called (Water Street Brewery).”
Oak Creek Mayor Steve Scaffidi has clearly been making a lot of calls. There are only two acres left to develop at Oak Creek’s Drexel Town Square, a mixed-use development that when complete will include residential, health care and retail. In addition to Water Street Brewery, which opened in July 2015, and a Chick-fil-A restaurant that opened this month, the site will include a BelAir Cantina restaurant if Scaffidi gets his wish, a steakhouse will open there in the future.
Increased commercial development in Oak Creek, Franklin, West Allis and Bay View has the 27th Street BID, which changed its name to The Historic 41 BID about five years ago, mulling the future of South 27th Street, particularly the four-mile stretch between Oklahoma and College avenues.
The stretch of road is unique because it is a boundry between Milwaukee and Greenfield, and the BID itself is unique, too. Because both cities are invested in the health of South 27th Street, Milwaukee Alderman Terry Witkowski thought a joint BID would be appropriate.
State law prohibits joint municipal BIDs, so Milwaukee and Greenfield each formed a district and contracted with a third party to create The Historic 41 BID. The group covers about 400 businesses within the four-mile stretch.
Now that road construction on 27th Street is complete, Reardon said attention has turned to restoring the retail health of the street.
“The mayor of Milwaukee doesn’t have time to go out and solicit business on 27th Street,” Reardon said. “Oak Creek has a plan, Franklin has a plan, Greenfield has a plan for 27th Street, but it’s secondary to what they are doing in the western part of their city, so we needed a focus.”
The group sat down with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Department of City Development commissioner Rocky Marcoux last fall to lay out a plan.
One of the goals is to hire a full-time person this year to go to local and national retail conferences and conventions, work with the commercial real estate community and focus on existing businesses.
Reardon would also like this person to make calls to prospective businesses – like the call Water Street Brewery received from Scaffidi.
“This is a retail corridor – not Nordstrom-type retail, but B retail,” Reardon said. “I travel quite a bit and I see all of these new franchises that I’ve never heard of. I want to make sure that when they get off the plane in Milwaukee, one of the places they are touring is 27th Street.”
Before anyone is hired, the BID is going to offer existing business owners a chance to participate in a façade program.
This summer, the city of Milwaukee and the BID will hold a charrette with developers, residents and business owners for five to 10 sites to get public input on best uses. Only two of the sites have been publicly announced.
The first is the former Chancery restaurant at 4624 S. 27th St., which closed in September after 33 years in business. An online auction was held in December for the 8,000-square-foot building, with the opening bid set at $895,000, but it did not sell.
Marcoux said ideally another sit-down restaurant will go into the building, but he wants to let the neighborhood decide what type of business the city should go after for the property, which is located just off of I-894.
The other site is the 160-year-old Wildenberg Hotel, 3774 S. 27th Street. The city of Milwaukee acquired the historic property in August 2013, and has had a “for sale” sign on it since.
Marcoux said two developers are interested in the site, but the city has decided to let the neighbors decide what’s best for the building and the land.
“We want to talk about the future, see what the most developable sites are and do what is best for the street,” Marcoux said. “We hope to conclude by (the end of) 2016 and bring a plan to the Milwaukee Common Council.”
Russ Sagmoen, a retail broker with Colliers International|Wisconsin, said attracting retail tenants to that area of South 27th Street is difficult because it is hard to access.
“There are not a lot of rooftops and that is a concern for me,” Sagmoen said. “When they redid the (Mitchell) interchange, it completely changed the traffic pattern. If you miss the off ramp you miss the whole area.”
Sagmoen said service-based retail, such as medical office, would serve the street well, given its proximity to Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center.
A recent bright spot is Plano, Texas-based At Home’s plan to renovate and occupy the 120,000-square-foot former Kmart store at 4595 S. 27th Street. The Greenfield Common Council approved At Home’s application in February.
This will be At Home’s second store in the area. The retailer opened its first location in October in a former Kmart store at 3201 N. Mayfair Road in Wauwatosa.
Milwaukee-based Fiduciary Real Estate Development is also in talks with Reardon to purchase an 11-acre parcel of vacant land just west of the Braeger Ford auto dealership at 4201 S. 27th St. Fiduciary wants to build 220 to 250 market-rate apartments, said Chuck Erickson, Greenfield community development manager.
If the development moves forward, it will add households South 27th needs to sustain the retailers the Historic 41 BID is trying to attract.
“If a project like this moves forward, it gets more wheels on the street and that is always a good thing,” Erickson said. “Folks living there can take advantage of nearby services, restaurants, buying a car, going bowling. 27th Street has the full gamut of what folks are looking for.”
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