Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:37 pm
The intersection of Water Street and the Milwaukee River, where a drawbridge connects the hip Historic Third Ward with the up-and-coming Fifth Ward, is the hottest development spot in the city of Milwaukee. Six projects are under construction in a three-block area, where the sky is cluttered with construction cranes. Yet another project was completed recently. Next year, after all of these projects are completed, the neighborhood will have a dramatically different and even more vibrant feel.
"I think in a year or so, it is going to be the most vibrant and active area in the entire city of Milwaukee," said KeyBridge Development Group president Scott Fergus, one of the developers who is transforming the area. "This is without question the most active area in Milwaukee. There just isn’t anything close." The biggest project in the neighborhood is KeyBridge’s $45 million redevelopment of the former Terminal Storage Co. building at 106 W. Seeboth St., at the junction of the Milwaukee and Menomonee rivers.
KeyBridge gutted the four-story building and is adding eight more stories on top of it. When completed in the summer of 2007, the project, called First Place on the River, will have 154 condominiums and 20,000 square feet of retail space. The condos cost between $150,000 and $1 million each. KeyBridge plans to move its corporate headquarters to the building from Waukesha. The company’s office will occupy about 3,500 square feet of space in First Place on the River, Fergus said. Most of the company’s 16 employees will be located in the new headquarters, but about four to six will be moved to a smaller Waukesha location, he said. The company’s current office is at 259 W. Broadway in downtown Waukesha.
Another commercial space in the First Place building will be occupied by a two-story, 2,300-square-foot coffee shop, wine bar and dessert bar called Luna, Fergus said. It will be located along the riverwalk. "It should be, we think, a wonderful destination point," Fergus said. KeyBridge also has a 6,000-square-foot commercial space in the building that it has targeted for a restaurant. "We are in conversations with four different restaurants, two that are out of Chicago," Fergus said. "By the end of the year, we will have one of them landed."
KeyBridge also has a 3,500-square-foot commercial space in the building at the corner of Seeboth and First streets that it has targeted for a specialty grocery store. "We are in discussions with three neighborhood grocers in Chicago," Fergus said. "None of them are from our area. There are a lot of successful neighborhood grocery stores in Chicago, and they like Milwaukee." Another commercial space in the building will be occupied by a health services provider, which Fergus declined to name. The second-biggest project in the area is the River Renaissance building at the southeast corner of Water and Erie streets. The $32 million, eight-story building will have 82 condominiums and 17,500 square feet of retail space.
"I just think it is going to be THE area," said Steve Stewart, president of Milwaukee-based New Vision Development Co. LLC. Stewart is a partner with RivRen LLC, which is developing River Renaissance. About 50 percent of the condos have been sold so far, Stewart said. They cost between $90,000 and $180,000. Red Star Tavern, an upscale bar and restaurant chain owned by Glenview, Ill.-based Restaurants America, will open a location in the River Renaissance building. Madison-based Allen Kitchen & Bath will also open a store in the building. About 5,500 square feet of retail space is still available in the building, Stewart said.
The River Renaissance project will be completed in May of 2007. Across Erie Street from River Renaissance, two buildings are being redeveloped. Inland Companies recently completed a $4.5 million project to gut and remodel the 115-year-old building at 222 E. Erie St., creating 87,000 square feet of modern office and retail space. The five-story, Cream City brick building is owned by a group of investors led by Chicago developer Mike Glazier. So far, about 16,000 square feet has been leased in the 222 E. Erie St. building. Three tenants have leased retail spaces. Vita Fitness & Physical Therapy leased 7,000 square feet, JuJu Gifts leased 1,800 square feet and The Home Market leased 2,300 square feet in the building. In addition, Walkers Forge has leased 5,100 square feet of office space on the building’s second floor.
There is about 6,800 square feet of retail space and 62,000 square feet of office space still available in the building, said Inland partner Mark Schnoll. The other projects in the area are helping Inland attract tenants to the building, Schnoll said.
Retailers want to be located near other stores and where people live, he said. "I think it’s a bustling area right now," Schnoll said. "It will increase dramatically once all of these projects are done. (The projects) are going to add more people, creating more of a need for goods and services."
Next door to the 222 E. Erie St. building, another group of Chicago investors is redeveloping the former M&M Club at 124 N. Water St. The 102-year-old, two-story, 4,600-square-foot building will be reopened later this summer as an Irish pub. The M&M Club was a popular gay bar that operated for 30 years until closing recently. Less than a block southeast of the First Place site, Dixon Development LLC is continuing its redevelopment of the former Kramer International Inc. foundry property. The company has already spent about $1.6 million to redevelop the two-story building at 114 E. Pittsburgh Ave., which is now occupied by an Alterra cafe and The Social restaurant on the first floor and Modern Aire, a framing and home furnishing store, on the second floor.
Just to the north of that building, Dixon Development is building a $4.7 million, three-story building, called Castings Point, with 9,100 square feet of retail space on the first floor and about 18,200 square feet of office space on the second and third floors. The project will be complete by Jan. 1. Just east of Castings Point, Dixon is building a $6.8 million, four-story building with 3,200 square feet of retail space and 60 apartments, with rents between $650 and $1,300 a month. The project, temporarily called Kramer Lofts, will be complete by next spring. The company also has an 80-foot by 80-foot lot at the corner of Barclay Street and Pittsburg Avenue, said Dixon Development owner Tim Dixon.
"We’re going to be looking for a tenant to build a restaurant, or some type of retail building (on the lot)," he said. Traffic on First Street/Water Street is attracting development to the area, Dixon said. "First Street is a very busy street," he said. "It’s very good exposure for retail. It’s also very accessible to downtown and the freeway." Just to the southwest, Vetter Denk Architecture is building a four-story, 25,000-square-foot office building on a vacant lot at 161 First St. Vetter Denk will move its headquarters to the building from 614 N. Broadway, occupying about 5,000 square feet. Capital Internet LLC will occupy about 10,000 square feet of office space in the building. The first floor of the building will be for retail or restaurant space. Construction is expected to be completed later this year.
The development in this corner of the city reflects the continued boom of the Third Ward and the increased interest in the Fifth Ward, developers say. Rising property values in the Third Ward have led to the spillover into the Fifth Ward, where property values are less expensive. "The Third Ward of Milwaukee is like the Greenwich Village of New York," Stewart said. "It’s just a real viable hub, because of the way it’s set up. The Third Ward is a neighborhood of people, businesses and activities. You have a reason to congregate. And the river is just a major (draw)." Development in the northern part of the Fifth Ward is making that area more vibrant, but the neighborhood as a whole is less pedestrian-friendly and therefore might never be as vibrant as the Third Ward, Stewart said.
"It’s going to be hard for the (Fifth Ward) to have it," he said. "There are physical barriers that don’t give it quite the neighborhood that the Third Ward has. The way the Fifth Ward is laid out, it’s more difficult to get from place to place than it is in the Third Ward. It’s just not as walk-able. All you have to do to get anyplace in the Third Ward is to start walking."
However, Dixon said he likes the less densely developed Fifth Ward, because it provides developers like him with the flexibility to add parking facilities to their projects. The development occurring in the area will make the Fifth Ward more pedestrian-friendly and will attract more stores and restaurants, he said. "Alterra, the amount of foot traffic they have is unbelievable already," Dixon said. "All of that density attracts these neat little entertainment venues."
In the works
- Former M&M club
- 222 E. Erie St.
- River Renaissance
- First Place on the River
- Castings Point
- Kramer Lofts
- 161 First St.