The Avenue owners in talks with New York firm for second-floor lease

Plan to continue buying nearby properties

The former Grand Avenue mall in downtown Milwaukee is being redeveloped into a mixed-use center, which includes offices, residential and a food hall.

Last updated on November 21st, 2019 at 11:03 am

The owners of the former Shops of Grand Avenue, which they’re turning into a mixed-use center, are in talks with a New York-based company to lease office space in the building.

They also plan to buy at least one other nearby property, which would add to the list of acquisitions they’ve made in recent years.

Josh Krsnak, president and chief executive officer of Minneapolis-based Hempel Cos., discussed the project Monday afternoon during the Greater Milwaukee Committee’s November member meeting. Krsnak and Grand Avenue mall co-owner Tony Janowiec, president and chief manager of Milwaukee-based Interstate Development Partners LLC, are transforming the former mall into The Avenue, which includes office space, apartments and a food hall.

The two upper floors are largely dedicated to offices. GRAEF-USA Inc. plans to move its headquarters into 35,000 square feet on its third floor. Much of the second floor could soon be leased to another tenant, according to Krsnak.

“We are in letters of intent right now with a New York firm to take a good portion of the second floor of the Grand Avenue,” he said on Monday. He didn’t disclose the name of the firm.

Beyond the office space, The Avenue also includes the 54-unit Plankinton Clover apartment complex, 125,000 square feet of first-floor retail — which will include the new 3rd Street Market Hall food hall — and a new public plaza at the intersection of North Old World Third Street and West Wisconsin Avenue.

The apartments opened in March, and GRAEF will move into its new office in December. The project is slated for an overall completion of May 2020.

Krsnak said 80% of the retail space has been pre-leased, and 93% of the apartments have been leased so far.

Since acquiring the mall in 2015, Krsnak and Janowiec have acquired a number of other properties nearby. This will likely continue with at least one more acquisition pending, Krsnak revealed.

“We’ve acquired, since the mall, six additional assets; we have our seventh asset under contract right now, and within Westown,” he said. “So, we’ve been very active there.”

Some previous acquisitions have been of buildings next to or directly connected to the former mall. By buying these properties, the developers effectively control what happens  in much of the area around The Avenue.

They recently purchased the 135-unit Majestic Loft Apartments, which are in a building connected to The Avenue, for $10.55 million. They also own the Matthews Building at 301 W. Wisconsin Ave. and a portion of the ASQ Center at the southeast corner of Wisconsin and Plankinton avenues as well as its parking structure at 555 N. Plankinton Ave.

Both the Matthews building and ASQ building have direct access to The Avenue.

The topic of Monday’s GMC meeting centered around the development activity taking place in downtown Milwaukee.

Much of the discussion focused on developments happening west of the river. In addition to The Avenue, other significant projects in that area include the restoration of the Warner Grand Theatre by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra; the redevelopment of the former Boston Store building into the HUB640 office and retail building; $30 million in renovations to the former Henry S. Reuss Federal Plaza, now known as 310W; and the planned expansion of the Wisconsin Center convention space.

And, of course, there is the Bucks’ Deer District, an eight-acre development area with the Fiserv Forum at its center.

Another speaker at Monday’s event was Alex Lasry, Bucks senior vice president, who spoke of the potential of the Deer District. He said the vision there is to create a neighborhood that is a year-round attraction.

This will in part be accomplished by offering things unique to the area. Lasry said that can already be seen with the choice of tenants at the entertainment district just east of the arena. They include Good City Brewing, Punch Bowl Social and Drink Wisconsinbly

Lasry said the Bucks hope to do the same with the remaining vacant sites around the arena.

“We’ve been in talks with a number of developers to try to bring something that’s either unique to Wisconsin or uniquely Wisconsin on all of those plots of land,” he said.

Lasry also specifically mentioned the Bucks were “deep into talks” with hotel developers. Other developments the Bucks hope for the Deer District could include additional retail, residential, entertainment and office, specifically a corporate headquarters project.

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Alex Zank
Alex Zank covers commercial and residential real estate for BizTimes. Alex previously worked for Farm Equipment magazine and also covered statewide construction news at The Daily Reporter. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he studied journalism, political science and economics. Having grown up in rural western Wisconsin, Alex loves all things outdoors, including camping, hiking, four-wheeling and hunting.