The rebirth of Bay View

Ten years ago, Bay View’s business district along Kinnickinnic Avenue was just about dead, according to Alderman Tony Zielinski.

Slowly but steadily, a procession of new businesses and residents has injected new life and investment into the neighborhood, following its blueprint for development, said Zielinski, who has presided over Bay View within Milwaukee’s 14th District for the past decade.

“Based on my years of experience, I have found that people want a vibrant, thriving business strip, but at the same time they want to retain the quality of life elements in their residential neighborhoods,” he said.

Dwell, 2440 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., is a mixed-use property with 70 apartments and four retail spaces, all of which are occupied.

As more businesses have opened in the area and residency has ramped up, the two have fed off one another.

District 14 Map: Bay View is a south side neighborhood covering about four square miles in Milwaukee’s 14th District.

“What has happened gradually is as business has come in, the neighborhood has supported them, and you’ve had a population increase in terms of folks moving in the neighborhood,” said Richard “Rocky” Marcoux, commissioner for Milwaukee’s Department of City Development.

A rendering of the mixed-use development planned for the King Building, 2534 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

While the city has contributed to the improvement of Bay View’s architecture and infrastructure, “it’s been a very healthy, predominantly private sector-driven effort,” Marcoux said, one that has created “a very strong cycle of investment and reinvestment.”

Bay View’s Kinnickinnic Ave. is the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare and home to many of its businesses.

Bridging the old with the new

The Avalon Theater, 2469-83 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., will show first-run films once reopened.

Today, Bay View is home to an estimated 25,000 residents representing a diversity of demographics, Zielinski said. Neighborhood apartments, duplexes and houses are filled by a mixture of single professionals and families.

The south side neighborhood, which Zielinski said covers about four square miles, is bordered by Lake Michigan on the east, First Street on the west, the Kinnickinnic River on the north and Morgan Avenue on the south.

Scott Genke, owner and operator of Milwaukee-based SG Property Management LLC, defines Bay View as a “very eclectic” neighborhood with “pockets” of commercial activity.

Between two of those pockets, Genke is in the process of redeveloping and expanding the 86-year-old King Building at 2534 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., which originally served as a car dealership. The mixed-use project encompasses two buildings on the property and is slated to add 25 to 30 contemporary apartments, above ground-level retail and office space. Within the front building, once occupied by a new and used car showroom, Genke plans to create 4,000 square feet of commercial space, topped by three stories of apartments. In the back building, formerly used to service cars and prepare them for sale, Genke is considering housing 4,000 square feet of office space beneath four stories of residential units.

“My passion is getting into these spaces and revitalizing them – taking a beautiful historic property and bringing back the beauty of it and modernizing the interiors,” said Genke, who also is investing in two buildings on Bay View’s South Howell Avenue (at 2505-07 and 2575-79 S. Howell Ave.) with smaller-scale mixed-used redevelopments.

Genke’s passion reverberates throughout Bay View as other community projects seek to strike a balance between “retaining and promoting our sense of history while introducing new types of developments,” Zielinski said.

A classic example is the Avalon Theater at 2469-83 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., where owner Lee Barczak has a $1.8 million renovation project underway. The movie theater, opened in 1928, closed in 2001. Four years later, Barczak purchased it with a vision to remodel and reopen – a vision that was put on hold when funding sources fell through during the Great Recession.

Current redevelopment plans include substantial enhancements to the building’s interior, with the creation of two movie theaters, a new kitchen, new concession stands and new bathrooms. Barczak also plans to replace all of the interior infrastructure and utilities and is repairing the roof and exterior masonry.

The theater should be open by sometime in August and is a top neighborhood priority, Zielinski said.

Another project merging the neighborhood’s past with its present is the former Dover Street School site, 619 E. Dover St., where a proposal has been set forth to establish a residential community for teachers. The “Teach Town” concept, which has been scaled down from previous proposals, would convert the former school building into residential units and add a pair of two-story townhouse buildings onto the site for a total of 75 units.

Creating a walkable community

Not far from these redevelopments, standalone businesses such as Colectivo Coffee Roasters’ Bay View Café & Bakery have also brought new life to the neighborhood and reinforced it as a walkable community.

Colectivo, formerly Alterra Coffee, opened its newly constructed 15,000-square-foot bakery at 2301 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. in 2012 at the gateway to Bay View.

Prior to Colectivo, the surrounding area struggled to attract foot traffic during the day, according to Zielinski.

“We want that strip to be alive and active throughout the day and evening times, and that Colectivo is helping to be a major draw during the daytime,” Zielinski said.

Colectivo talked about opening a Bay View location for a long time in line with its drive to open cafes in all of Milwaukee’s major neighborhoods, said Lincoln Fowler, co-owner.

“Bay View was a hole in that plan, and it was a great opportunity to put a really significant facility at a very significant intersection,” Fowler said.

The café and bakery joined restaurant hotspots Café LuLu, Stone Creek Coffee, Wild Flour Bakery & Café, and Café Centraal at the intersection of Kinnickinnic and Lincoln avenues.

“All of those folks moved into the Bay View neighborhood before we did,” Fowler said. “We kind of completed that circle around that intersection, so to speak.”

Still ‘a long way to go’

As Bay View continues to attract more retail and residents, Zielinski is eager to see more mixed-use development.

One mixed-use project in the early stages of development is a plan to raze two properties formerly occupied by Faust Music. The project, planned by Milwaukee-based Dermond Property Investments, would replace the existing structures with a five-story, 72-unit market rate apartment building at 2200 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. The new building would also incorporate about 3,000 square feet of retail space.

“When I talk and work with architects, I try to promote an edgy, eclectic, creative type of design, and I think that the Faust Music development will have that kind of design,” Zielinski said.

The mixed-use concept has proven successful for Milwaukee-based commercial real estate development firm HKS Holdings, LLC, which in 2012 completed Dwell at 2440 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. The building, four stories on Kinnickinnic and five stories on Conway Street, holds 70 occupied apartment units and four occupied retail spaces at a location that is “second to none in Bay View,” said Tyler Hawley, a principal at HKS.

Tenants of Dwell, mostly young professionals, have access to restaurants, night life venues, fitness facilities, parks and more within blocks.

“Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen foot traffic increase quite a bit, and I think that’s due to all the new entertainment and restaurants that have popped up in the neighborhood,” Hawley said.

But even with all the new business that has cropped up in Bay View, the area still has plenty of room for growth, Zielinski said.

“We’re not even close to reaching our full potential,” he said. “We still have a long way to go, but we’re feeling really good right now. We’re going to feel even better, though.”

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