In its proposed redevelopment of the Eagle Knitting Mills building in Walker’s Point, developer Wangard Partners Inc. aims to create a STEM-focused innovation ecosystem.
An affiliate of the Wauwatosa-based developer in 2017 purchased the 91-year-old building, located at 507 S. Second St. Wangard plans to redevelop it for a mix of uses, according to a report from West Allis’ regional community development entity, First-Ring Industrial Redevelopment Enterprise Inc. (FIRE).
Once finished, the building will be “a collaborative innovation ecosystem of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)-related industries focused on bridging Milwaukee’s gap of inequality, segregation, income disparity, and inclusion,” the report states.
The project, known as Eagleknit, will support this ecosystem environment with: A shared community facility and training room; workforce development; education for STEM fields and trades; minority-focused businesses; and start-up and entrepreneur space.
It will include at least 25,000 square feet of incubator space, with tenants of that space focusing on “educating and developing minority and low-income members of the community,” according to the report.
Incubator tenants include Building2Learn, a group that helps students gain skills needed for high-demand skilled trade and manufacturing careers; Cream City Coders, which provides underserved youth with computer-science training; and i.c. stars, a Chicago-based nonprofit that trains young adults for technology careers.
Complementing the incubator space will be about 50,000 square feet of low-cost office space, which will cater to small businesses and entrepreneurs that have graduated from the incubator space or are working with tenants of the incubator space. The project will also include a 25,000-square-foot CenturyLink data center. Other amenities will include a health care clinic, a “healthy cafe” and a fitness center.
Wangard plans to add 30,000 square feet onto the existing building, bringing its total size to 107,000 square feet. Once work is finished, the building will be equipped with new HVAC systems, lighting, electrical, plumbing and bathrooms, as well as restored wood floors and other updates that will preserve the historic building.
The project is seeking a $20 million allocation of New Markets Tax Credits. Of that amount, $7.5 million would come from FIRE, said John Stibal, West Allis development director.
FIRE board members will consider the proposal on Monday morning.
Burton Metz, vice president of Wangard, said the New Markets Tax Credits represent the last needed piece in financing the $30 million project. Other sources include $3.3 million in in historic tax credits, a Property Assessed Clean Energy loan and Opportunity Zone funds.
“It’s a complicated (financing) structure but it’s also an important need to bring this innovation hub forward in Milwaukee,” he said.
Metz declined further comment on the project. He added that Wangard will be releasing more information in the coming weeks.