The Menomonee Valley is on a roll

In the wake of the Great Recession there is still little commercial development under construction in southeastern Wisconsin as the financial markets remain tight, especially for commercial real estate development.

Of the limited amount of development that is occurring in the region, one of the few hot spots is the Menomonee Valley in Milwaukee. Once the state’s biggest brownfield, the revitalization of the Menomonee Valley continues at a steady pace.

“We’re having a blast over here,” said Laura Bray, executive director of Menomonee Valley Partners, a non-profit organization that promotes the development of the valley.

Construction began recently on the latest development in the Menomonee Valley, an $8 million, 140,000-square-foot production facility and office complex for Bilbao, Spain-based Ingeteam Inc. Production is expected to begin in the facility in January of 2011. Eventually 275 people will work at the facility, which will be used to manufacture generators and converters for wind turbines and solar power inverters.

The Ingeteam facility will be located at 3757 W. Milwaukee Road, just south of the new, 160,000-square-foot Charter Wire plant, which was completed last year. Charter Wire, which has 89 employees working at the plant, moved its operations there from the Third Ward.

Ingeteam and Charter Wire are the latest additions to the Menomonee Valley Industrial Center, an industrial park that was created by the city on a site at the west end of the valley, near Miller Park, that the city acquired from Chicago-based CMC Heartland Partners in 2003. The city spent millions to clean up and attract development to the industrial park.

The first company to move to the MVIC was Palermo Villa Inc., which is now working on plans to expand its 135,000-square-foot facility.

When first created, the Menomonee Valley Industrial Center had 60 acres available for private development. With Ingeteam’s purchase of 8 acres for its facility, there are now only 12 acres still available in the MVIC.

New and expanding businesses in the Menomonee Valley have added 4,200 jobs during the last 10 years and there are now more than 10,000 employees that work in the valley, Bray said.

Despite all of the development that has occurred in the Menomonee Valley in recent years, including the development of the MVIC, the expansion of Potawatomi Bingo Casino and the construction of the Harley-Davidson Museum, there are still several additional sites in the valley available for development, Bray said.

“There are still several sites that are ready to go,” she said.

Another project that is under construction in the Menomonee Valley is the renovation of a 30,000-square-foot building that will be the new corporate headquarters for Zimmerman Architectural Studios Inc., which will bring about 130 employees to the valley. The building is the largest of a seven-building complex located on a 25-acre property along the north side of the Menomonee River, and southeast of West Greves Street and North 25th Street. Most of the buildings in the complex, which is owned by Milwaukee-based Mallory Properties, are more than 100 years old and Mallory plans to redevelop the entire site.

Another project under construction will help workers get to the valley. Construction work began recently for the Valley Passage, which will improve pedestrian access between the Menomonee Valley in Milwaukee and the residential neighborhood to the south. It will be built at the same location where years ago south side workers walked through a tunnel and across a bridge to work in the valley. The $3.8 million project includes a bridge over the Menomonee River, a railroad underpass and a path leading up to South 37th and Pierce streets.

In its long-range plans Menomonee Valley Partners wants to add another bridge connecting the Mitchell Park Domes to the valley, and also wants to create a 24-acre park west of 27th Street. The organization needs to raise funds for the projects, Bray said.

Improvements are also planned to Marquette University’s Valley Fields, the home of MU’s men’s and women’s soccer teams, located north of the casino. MU plans to build a $1.2 million, 3,000-square-foot facility that will include dressing rooms with showers, a changing area for game officials, an area for sports medicine treatment and public restrooms for spectators. The project is expected to begin this summer.

Meanwhile, another company is planning to move into an existing building in the Menomonee Valley. Helios USA, a start-up manufacturer of solar panels, will occupy 40,000 square feet of space in the Canal Street Commerce Center, at 1301 W. Canal St., which was built on the former site of the Milwaukee stockyards.

The 146,000-square-foot Canal Street Commerce Center building was completed by West Bend-based Ziegler Bence Development in 2008. The building is anchored by Proven Direct and with the addition of Helios is now 96 percent leased. Only about 5,400 square feet remains and that space is also attracting interest from potential tenants, said Ziegler Bence partner J.J. Ziegler.

The secret to the success of the Canal Street Commerce Center, and to the success of the Menomonee Valley, is the age old real estate axiom of “location, location, location,” Ziegler said. The valley’s proximity to downtown, the city’s workforce and the freeway system has made it an attractive location for businesses, he said.

“The valley has really been revitalized with quality buildings,” Ziegler says, which just makes it a more attractive location for other businesses to move in to.

Meanwhile, Rexnord Industries LLC is getting $2.3 million in federal funds to help prevent flooding at its Falk plant in the Menomonee Valley. The funds will be used to extend the height of a flood wall by about 3 feet, which will protect the property from a statistical “100 year flood.” The flood mitigation work will also include improvements to the property’s stormwater management. Rexnord wants to do the flood mitigation work so it can eventually expand its operations at the Falk plant. However, there are no specific expansion plans at this time. About 700 people work there currently.

Also on the drawing board, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee plans to develop a site at the Reed Street Yards near South Third Street and Pittsburgh Avenue, where the school plans to construct a public-private facility that will house academic applied research labs, conference space for businesses, a business accelerator and the offices of the Milwaukee Water Council. The building is expected to provide a catalyst for the city’s plans to have a cluster of water technology businesses in an office park development at the Reed Street Yards, located at the east end of the Menomonee Valley.

Even with all of the development that has occurred and is occurring in the Menomonee Valley, much more development needs to be done for it to reach the redevelopment vision of city officials and the Menomonee Valley Partners.

“The valley isn’t done,” Bray said. “There is a perception that the valley is complete. While we are very excited about the progress that we have made, there is still a lot of work to do to fulfill the vision.”

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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