UWM Innovation Park could have major impact

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Innovation Park is the most significant real estate development project in southeastern Wisconsin, according to Barry Mandel, president of Mandel Inc.

“I think it’s the most important project (for the region) for the next two to four decades,” Mandel said.

BizTimes Milwaukee surveyed members of the Commercial Association of Realtors Wisconsin (CARW) about which commercial real estate projects in southeastern Wisconsin should be the top priorities for public and private investment.

The UWM Innovation Park project came in fourth in the survey, behind the Park East Corridor, The Shops of Grand Avenue and the Kohl’s Corp. corporate headquarters project.

Last week, Mandel, Cassidy Turley Barry president James T. Barry III, Zilber Inc. vice president Mike Mervis and Grucon Group LLC president Gary Grunau discussed the top 10 projects identified in the CARW survey on a panel for the BizTimes Commercial Real Estate and Development Conference. All of the panelists said the UWM Innovation Park project could have a major impact on the region.

Innovation Park is being developed on a 71-acre site northeast of U.S. Highway 45 and Watertown Plank Road in Wauwatosa. UWM officials believe the site’s proximity to the Milwaukee County Research Park, Froedtert Hospital, the Medical College of Wisconsin, the BloodCenter of Wisconsin and Children’s Hospital, will help spark innovation and high tech business development at Innovation Park. Innovation Park will include facilities for some graduate level engineering programs that UWM officials believe can create synergies with the nearby medical experts. UWM will build some buildings in Innovation Park in conjunction with private partners, and others are expected to be built entirely by the private sector.

“Innovation Park is going to be tremendous,” Grunau said. “People forget how much research has grown at the Medical College. There you have a real opportunity for spin-off and start-up type businesses.”

Grunau compared the Innovation Park project to the highly successful University Research Park in Madison.

“(University Research Park) is like driving through the Research Triangle in North Carolina or San Jose,” he said. “There are incredible companies.”

Innovation Park is also ideally located near the Zoo Interchange, the nexus of southeastern Wisconsin, near GE Healthcare’s Wauwatosa facility, and in between Madison and Chicago, Mandel said. Innovation Park could become a hub for medical device businesses, a sector that has huge potential, he said.

“You have something that is going to be growing organically and growing significantly,” Mandel said. “These institutions (located near each other) are all going to be able to recruit the best minds internationally to be part of a (Milwaukee County) Regional Medical Center and a UWM research facility that has the ability to compete, not only on a national basis but on an international basis.”

UWM has been negotiating a sale of the historic Alexander Eschweiler-designed buildings at the Innovation Park site to Mandel Group, which plans to remodel them into apartments. The entire Innovation Park will have a village-like feel, Mandel said.

The long range vision should be to expand Innovation Park into more of the Milwaukee County Grounds, Mandel said.

“I think it has potential to become one of the biggest research parks in the country,” he said.

The UWM Innovation Park also could make the area around it a development hot spot, Barry said.

“I think this will be extremely significant for metro Milwaukee, and particularly that area around the Watertown Plank Road intersection and even going up and down the Highway 45 corridor,” he said “We’re marketing the old Harley-Davidson property at Capitol and 45. I could see a high end manufacturer being very interested in that. There couldn’t be a better place for (Innovation Park) to be, taking advantage of the synergies from the Medical College of Wisconsin and the Milwaukee County Research Park. I think it’s going to be tremendous.”

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