Efforts to create a water technology business accelerator center and to establish Milwaukee as the “Silicon Valley” of water technology businesses are gaining momentum.
Construction began recently on what is now called the Global Water Center, which will be established in a seven-story, 98,000-square-foot, 106-year-old Walker’s Point warehouse at 223 W. Pittsburgh Ave. The $22 million project is expected to be complete in late spring or early summer of 2013. The project was designed by Milwaukee-based Kahler Slater and the general contractors are Fond du Lac-based C.D. Smith Construction Inc. and Madison-based KBS Construction. The building is owned by a group of investors known as Water Accelerator LLC and the developer for the project is HKS Holdings LLC.
About 40 percent of the project is being financed through a combination of federal new markets tax credits and historic tax credits. The project has numerous other funding sources, including the Richard and Ethel Herzfeld Foundation and the U.S. Bank Community Development Corp.
The tenants in the building will be a mix of larger firms, smaller firms, start-ups, business promotional organizations and university researchers. Milwaukee water industry supporters hope having all of those entities in one building will create synergies that help spur water technology innovation and business development in Milwaukee.
“It’s probably going to be the only facility of its kind, literally, in the world,” said Dean Amhaus, executive director of the Milwaukee Water Council. “What you have is a mix of entities. We think that is an advantage, to be able to have a 25-year veteran from A.O. Smith able to work with a 25-year-old grad student.”
An impressive list of tenants has already committed to occupy space in the Global Water Center.
Brown Deer-based Badger Meter Inc. will occupy 2,300 square feet of space on the first floor, and Milwaukee-based A.O. Smith Corp. will also occupy 2,300 square feet on the first floor.
The first floor of the building will also have a flow lab that will be shared by tenants of the building, a shared wet lab, a board room, a conference room, a 40-seat auditorium and a gathering area for people to talk, have coffee, etc.
The entire 13,000-square-foot seventh floor will be occupied by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, primarily for its School of Freshwater Sciences. UWM faculty and students will be working on freshwater projects and research there that have “potential for commercial applications,” Amhaus said.
Paris-based Veolia Water will occupy about 3,000 square feet on the fourth floor of the building.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the state business development organization that replaced the Department of Commerce, will move its six-person Milwaukee area office from 2645 N. Mayfair Road, Wauwatosa, into an 1,800-square-foot space on the fourth floor of the Global Water Center building.
“Businesses in the building that are looking for help from the state can just go down to the fourth floor and talk to them,” Amhaus said.
The Greater Milwaukee Committee will move its offices from the Matthews Bros. Building at 301 W. Wisconsin Ave. in the Shops of Grand Avenue complex in downtown Milwaukee to a 4,000-square-foot space on the fourth floor of the Global Water Center building.
The Milwaukee Water Council is leasing the entire fifth floor of the building. The Water Council will use about 3,000 to 3,500 square feet of space for its own offices, which will move there from its current location in the Empire Building at 710 N. Plankinton Ave. in downtown Milwaukee.
The Water Council plans to sublease the rest of its fifth floor space to office tenants seeking a small amount of space in the building. Several tenants have already signed up to sublease some of that space: Olathe, Kan.-based Grundfos Pumps Corp., Franklin Park, Ill.-based Sloan Valve Company, Greenfield-based PaveDrain, Glendale-based Xela Innovations and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater College of Business and Economics.
Portions of the second and third floors of the building will be reserved for start-up businesses.
No tenants are committed to the sixth floor of the building.
So, three floors in the building are entirely leased, about half the space on three floors is reserved and one floor is completely available.
The tenants that have committed to the building make it easier to attract additional tenants, Amhaus said.
“We’ve certainly gotten more interest,” he said. “There are a couple of international companies we are talking to very, very seriously. We haven’t even done a big push yet from a promotional standpoint. Now that the renovation has begun, we can kick it into gear. With (two-thirds) of the building gone, you have to pick up the pace if you want to get in.”
City officials and water industry boosters hope the Global Water Center project will provide an anchor and a catalyst for redevelopment of the Reed Street Yards site to the west.
“Our vision is that (the Global Water Center) is just the first step, and that one day we’re going to be standing in a water technology (business) park,” said Rich Meeusen, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Badger Meter and co-chairman of the Milwaukee Water Council.
Peter Moede, one of the owners of the nearby Tannery office complex, and Fox Point-based General Capital Group LLP, plan to create a water technology business park on the Reed Street Yards site. Once the infrastructure is in place, Moede and General Capital can move forward with plans to attract tenants and put up buildings in the Reed Street Yards. The development eventually could have 5 to 10 buildings with up to 600,000 to 700,000 square feet of space. Complete development of the site would likely require construction of a parking structure
City officials approved about $6.2 million in tax incremental financing (TIF) for the Reed Street Yards redevelopment project. Construction of infrastructure, including streets, sewer pipes and stormwater management, for the project is expected to begin next spring.
“We want (Reed Street Yards) to be a showcase for water management,” Amhaus said. “The goal is to have no rainwater running into the (river) at all. There will be bioswales and porous pavers from PaveDrain.”
As part of the city infrastructure improvements, Pittsburgh Avenue will be extended through the Reed Street Yards site. City officials want to rename Pittsburgh Avenue, and are seeking public input, to reflect the goals of creating a water technology business hub.
“With all due respect to the City of Pittsburgh, I’m hoping we will find a different name that matches the vision for this neighborhood. We are counting on some great street name suggestions to match the great ambitions for this building and this neighborhood,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said.