The Avenue development in downtown Milwaukee has a new pair of investors in Milwaukee Brewers outfielders and Ryan Braun and Christian Yelich, the project developers announced on Tuesday.
The former Shoppes of Grand Avenue mall, located at the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and Third Street downtown, is being redeveloped into a mix of uses, including office, apartments and a food hall.
Extremely high profile athletes, Braun and Yelich are both California natives and both have won the National League Most Valuable Player award, Yelich last year and Braun in 2011.
"I consider Milwaukee my second home," Braun said in a news release. "This investment is not only good business, but it’s an opportunity to play a role in the transformation of this part of Milwaukee that will attract more people to the city and help it thrive."
Tony Janowiec, co-owner of The Avenue
, declined to disclose the amount the two are investing in the project, but said it was a significant amount.
"It is not a token investment," he said. "It is a significant investment in the property."
Janowiec, president and chief manager of Milwaukee-based Interstate Development Partners LLC, is redeveloping the former Grand Avenue mall along with Josh Krsnak, president and chief executive officer of Minneapolis-based Hempel Cos.
The Avenue development will include the 52-unit Plankinton Clover apartment complex, the 21-tenant 3rd Street Market Hall and 190,000 square feet of office space that will include the new headquarters for Milwaukee-based GRAEF-USA Inc. GRAEF will be moved into its new digs by December, and the food hall is set to open around May of next year.
Another likely tenant at The Avenue is Good Karma Brands, which owns WTMJ and ESPN radio stations in Milwaukee, among other stations in Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida. BizTimes reported last week
that Good Karma was finalizing a deal to move its offices and the two radio stations there.
Janowiec said the Brewers players learned of the investment opportunity with The Avenue through Omar Shaikh, co-owner and president of SURG Restaurant Group LLC
who will run the food hall. Janowiec said Shaikh is a partner with The Avenue developers on The Avenue and other projects, and is also friends with Braun and Yelich.
The two were looking for investment opportunities, particularly in communities they were connected with, said Janowiec.
"They're just incredibly community-minded guys, and they love Milwaukee, love Wisconsin and they're both very smart businessmen," he said.
Janowiec added that, after he learned of what type of investment the two were looking to make, "this one (The Avenue) kind of had everything." He said the project provided not only a good investment opportunity but one in which they could have a hand in further redeveloping Milwaukee's Westown neighborhood.
Braun and Yelich, along with teammate Mike Moustakas and Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff, last fall teamed up to create California Strong, an initiative meant to raise money to help those in that state who were impacted by three major wildfires and the mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, California.
Yelich drew parallels between that effort and his and Braun's investment in The Avenue.
"Seeing how California Strong had such a positive community impact on our hometowns reinforced the importance of supporting the cities that support us," Yelich said in the release. "I’ve quickly grown to love Milwaukee in my time here and want to help show others its greatness and make its neighborhoods as successful as possible."
Janowiec said he and Krsnak are nearly finished in raising equity on The Avenue, and that the process has been going on for only a couple of weeks. Other than equity from investors and the developers, the roughly $49 million project is financed through senior construction debt, a Property Assessed Clean Energy loan and city tax incremental financing. Janowiec said all financing is essentially in place to finance the project.
Shaikh's restaurant group has partnered with Braun on previous ventures. SURG, along with Braun and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, opened the 8-twelve MVP Bar and Grill
in Brookfield in 2012, later opening a second location
at Bayshore Town Center in Glendale. Ryan Braun's Graffito restaurant in Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward opened in 2011 after SURG bought the business in late 2010. It had been previously been called Ryan Braun's Waterfront Grill.
After ending its business relationship with Braun in 2013, SURG changed 8-twelve's name
to Hom Wood Fired Grill. The Brookfield location closed in 2016, and the Glendale location closed this January
. Braun's name was also dropped from Graffito, and that restaurant closed later in 2013
. That space is now called SURG on the Water, and serves a venue for weddings or corporate events.