A developer wants to raze the former Grand Department Store building at 1101-1113 W. Historic Mitchell St. in Milwaukee to build a 55-unit apartment building in its place. The developer is Zuwena Cotton, founder and CEO of Milwaukee-based commercial trucking operation Legacy Transit. The 5-story building would be constructed within the 22,669-square footprint of the existing building and would be an “inventive reiteration of the original historic building,” according to a project description submitted to the city’s Historic Preservation Commission. Dubbed “The Encore” the development would include 18,380 square feet of commercial space on the first floor. The upper four floors would have the apartments. Ninety percent of the apartments – a mix of studio, one-, two-and-three-bedroom units – would be affordable housing available at below market rate rents to qualified tenants (based on household income level), and 10% of the units would be rented at market rates. All units would have washers and dryers, and tenants will have access to a variety of amenities, including a community room, fitness center, and courtyard located in the center of the development with grills, seating areas and space for growing small gardens. Parking would be located on the lot at 1718 S. 12th St. As an homage to the 1930s department store that would be razed, the design of the new building would be a combination of Art Deco and modern chic, the project description states. “By erecting the new development, we will bring an ‘encore’ to the once thriving commercial district that was known as the 'second downtown' of Milwaukee. The Encore will symbolize not what we had, but the possibilities of what we can become,” Cotton writes. First project While Cotton has been a landlord and flipped houses, this is her first major project as a developer. An alum of Marquette University’s ACRE program, she purchased the building in 2020 with hopes of renovating it, but soon discovered the cost to restore the structure would make that project unfeasible. She arrived with this new concept after speaking with local residents and Jose Perez, the area’s alderman, she said, and decided on a project that would deliver the kind of density needed along the corridor. “This is part of larger vision of mine to really educate the community,” Cotton noted. Opportunity center The hope is to use the development to spur economic growth and offer more beneficial services to residents of the community, by creating what the developer describes as a “cornerstone” retail space at the intersection of 11th and Historic Mitchell Street that would take advantage of high traffic counts. “We are looking for a tenant that will provide products and services for high frequency repeat customers (coffee shop, etc.),” the description states, adding that the tenant that currently occupies the building – Mitchell Beauty Supply Store – would be relocated to the west end of the building. The remaining ground level would be occupied by a leasing office as well as a 3,330-square-foot dance studio with rentable space and a co-working space that would flow into a 2,350-square-foot “opportunity center,” where tenants and other neighborhood residents could attend a variety of classes on financial literacy, home ownership, career training and business development. “We are soliciting partners to deliver proven programming in these areas to bring positive solutions to the community. We are confident that the added businesses and services at the site will attract more visitors to the corridor and contribute to the revitalization of the district,” the project description states. The proposal could go before the Historic Preservation Committee at its Dec. 5 meeting.
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