Transformation of former Concordia campus progresses

There are signs of life again at the former Concordia College campus in the Concordia neighborhood on the City of Milwaukee’s west side.

“The campus is so vibrant now,” said Brian Kraus, chief financial officer of Greenfire Management Services LLC. “It’s just been an uplifting process to have the campus alive again.”

Greenfire is a construction management, owner’s representative and property management firm. It is a wholly-owned company of the Potawatomi Business Development Corp., the investment arm of the Forest County Potawatomi Community.

Bgemagen building, formerly Wunder Hall

Greenfire does the construction management work for the tribe’s building projects, including the new hotel at Milwaukee’s Potawatomi Hotel & Casino and the ongoing redevelopment of the former Concordia College campus, located at State and 33rd streets.

Former Refectory building

The campus was vacated in 2010 when the Indian Community School moved to Franklin. Concordia University moved out in 1983 to its current location in Mequon.

Gymnasium

The redeveloped campus site is now called the Wgema Campus.

Woodlands School occupies the Nengos building, formerly Pritzlaff Hall

Greenfire Management and Potawatomi Business Development Corp. occupy the entire third floor of the three-story former Wunder Hall building, now called the Bgemagen building, at 3215 W. State St. Each floor of the building has about 7,000 square feet of space.

The Bgemagen building, constructed in 1925, is now fully leased with the recent addition of the Milwaukee Police Department, which signed a 10-year lease to occupy the entire first floor. MPD human resources staff will occupy the space temporarily while the department’s downtown administration building is being renovated. Later MPD’s Internal Affairs division will move into the space.

The entire second floor of the Bgemagen building is occupied by Select Milwaukee, which has been there for about a year. Select Milwaukee is a nonprofit organization that helps people achieve and maintain homeownership.

The lower level office space in the building is occupied by J.W. Johnson & Associates, a civil engineering firm.

The 55,800-square-foot former Pritzlaff Hall building on the campus at 3121 W. State St., now known as the Nengos building, is now occupied by the east campus for Woodlands School, an independent charter school. Work on the building was completed this year. The school currently has grades K-3 in the building but hopes to grow to grades K-8.

The school also uses the gymnasium in what is now called the Tthigwe Building on the campus. The gym is also used for an at risk youth rec program.

On the north side of State Street, Potawatomi Business Development Corp. developed a 46,000-square-foot, $33 million data center, which was completed last year. An apartment building was torn down to make way for the data center.

The tribe also recently completed construction of a parking lot between Highland Boulevard and State Street, about half a block west of North 33rd Street. The lot will provide additional parking for employees of office tenants in the complex.

The tribe has plans to eventually renovate other buildings on the campus, including the former Refectory (cafeteria) building and former Albrecht Hall and Rickner Library buildings, which are connected.

“They’re beautiful buildings,” Kraus said.

Plans to redevelop the buildings on the campus are limited by historic preservation requirements, which do not allow dramatic changes to the space layout.

The former Refectory building could be used as group and meeting space on the first floor with office space on the second floor. Work on that building will probably start next year, Kraus said.

The connected Albrecht Hall and Rickner Library buildings will likely be converted to office space, but detailed plans have yet to be determined. These buildings have some of the most dramatic architectural details of the campus, including decorative moldings and a chapel with high ceilings and stained glass windows.

Long-term, open space on the property could eventually attract future development opportunities.

“The intent (of the redevelopment of the campus) is to help stabilize the neighborhood,” Kraus said. “We’re trying to bring the campus back (to life), revitalize the neighborhood and give the neighborhood some stability.”

Meanwhile, Greenfire Management Services is branching out from handling Potawatomi tribal construction projects and is increasingly doing work for non-tribal projects. The company is currently managing $60 million in non-tribal construction projects and hopes to announce within the next few months that it will be managing another $75 million in non-tribal construction projects.

“I think people looked at us as doing work just for the tribe, but that’s not the intent,” Kraus said.

Greenfire is the construction management firm for the Paper Box Lofts project, a 72-unit apartment project in a six-story former industrial building at 1560 W. Pierce St., Milwaukee, which is just being completed by Minneapolis-based Sherman Associates Inc. Greenfire is also doing construction management work for Mandel Group Inc.’s Beaumont Place apartment development in Whitefish Bay and Echelon Apartments project in Wauwatosa. The firm will also do construction management work for Mandel Group’s planned Adventure Rock rock climbing gym and apartment building project in Milwaukee.

“We’ve been really happy with what these guys have done for us so far,” said Mandel Group chief operating officer Robert Monnat.

Greenfire Management Services added several talented individuals to its staff during the Great Recession-induced construction industry slump, when work had dried up and many firms had to reduce staff, Monnat said.

“They were able to find a lot of good, experienced talent on the street because there wasn’t a lot of work,” Monnat said. “They have highly skilled people with respect to the type of work we do. They have extremely strong pre-construction services, which helps get an accurate estimation of construction costs.”

About six month ago, Kip Ritchie joined Greenfire Management Services as the firm’s new president.

“We’ve got to be really good at what we do,” Ritchie said. “Otherwise, we can’t grow the company.”

Last year, Greenfire, which was established in 2010, had about $16 million in revenue. This year, it will have nearly $50 million. The company currently has 16 employees and plans to add four more to handle the growing workload.

“It’s the non-tribal work that is leading to this growth,” Kraus said.

“That’s what Greenfire was set up to do,” Ritchie said. “We are succeeding in providing the economic diversity that the tribe was looking for.”

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