Wauwatosa plans for future of area around I-41 and Watertown Plank Road

Real Estate

Wauwatosa officials have been meeting with a team from Milwaukee-based engineering firm GRAEF for more than a year to develop a master plan for the area around I-41 and Watertown Plank Road, which includes plans to reconfigure the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Innovation Campus into a mixed-use development.

The robust plan, which has not yet been made public, envisions Watertown Plank Road, now a busy thoroughfare, becoming a central business corridor while connecting the neighborhood to Wauwatosa’s downtown Village area.

The Milwaukee Regional Medical Center water tower at 87th Street and Watertown Plank Road.
The Milwaukee Regional Medical Center water tower at 87th Street and Watertown Plank Road.

The plan includes more density in the form of retail, restaurants and housing throughout the area near the I-41 and Watertown Plank Road interchange, which includes Innovation Campus northeast of the interchange, the Milwaukee County Research Park to the southwest and the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center to the southeast. It envisions this area of Wauwatosa as a “metropolitan center,” that includes even more density than what is already there, and public transit.

Overall, the master plan could allow for the development of up to 6,500 more housing units, 250,000 square feet of office space, 70,000 square feet of retail space, 120,000 square feet of restaurants and 24,000 more parking spaces in the I-41/Watertown Plank Road area. The estimated annual tax revenue generated by this additional development would be $40 million to $50 million, according to the plan.

The plan also includes a road that would run north of, and roughly parallel to, Watertown Plank Road, that would connect the Innovation Campus to some nearby streets and the downtown Village area.

A draft version of the plan, dated July 2016, was obtained by BizTimes. GRAEF officials who developed the plan referred all questions to the city.

Paulette Enders, director of development for the City of Wauwatosa, said the plan will be rolled out with public meetings early next year before final adoption.

Before that can happen, the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center, which includes Froedtert Hospital, the Medical College of Wisconsin and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, is working on its own master plan that will be incorporated into this one, Enders said.

The view of Froedtert Hospital and the Medical College of Wisconsin from Watertown Plank Road.
The view of Froedtert Hospital and the Medical College of Wisconsin from Watertown Plank Road.

“We are adding more density, but we feel it is the right amount of density and the right location,” Enders said. “This is very preliminary. Once we have all of the information, we will put it on a website and can begin gathering public input and the adoption process.”

A master plan is a blueprint that a municipality creates to depict current land uses and guidelines for future growth and development.

The GRAEF plan proposes an updated vision for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Real Estate Foundation’s Innovation Campus, which was started in 2011 on a 60-acre site northeast of U.S. Highway 45 and Watertown Plank Road. The campus was launched as a collaborative effort between industry and UWM researchers, who hoped the site’s proximity to the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center and Milwaukee County Research Park would make it a significant catalyst for economic development in the region.

In 2013, Milwaukee-based Zilber Property Group developed the first private sector building at Innovation Campus, a three-story, 95,000-square-foot office space for Zurich, Switzerland-based ABB Ltd. to house its business operations.  A business accelerator opened in 2014, and Mandel Group recently opened the Echelon Apartments, 188 units in six three-story buildings on the Milwaukee County Grounds.

The idea of Innovation Campus was to attract businesses that would want to collaborate with UWM researchers and health care researchers and resources at the Regional Medical Center. But the economic growth that developers hoped for at Innovation Campus has not come to fruition over the past six years.

The master plan proposes a shift at Innovation Campus, toward a high-density mixed-use development that would include residential, office buildings and some retail.

“Proposed footprints for new buildings to not go beyond the perimeter of earlier Innovation Campus plans, but the density and intensity of development increases,” according to the plan, which also proposes a new public plaza along Watertown Plank dubbed “Emerald Square, “Monarch Park,” or a similar place-related name.

David Gilbert, executive director of the UWM Innovation Campus, said while a lot of details still have to be studied, he agrees with the general premise that the Innovation Campus parcel could be developed with more density than currently called for if done in a responsible and sustainable manner.

“I don’t view the concepts proposed in the draft as a departure from our current plans,” Gilbert said. “It is more of an evolution of our Innovation Campus that warrants close examination.”

The 147-page plan also proposes a “circulator,” or transit system that would be similar to buses used in Washington, D.C. to connect people to their destinations and reduce traffic congestion.

Various routes and scenarios are outlined and the system could increase in capacity if it were needed. Routes include Innovation Campus to the Milwaukee County Research Park, as well as the Wauwatosa Village to Mayfair Mall and the Mayfair Collection. Annual costs range from $187,500 for two vehicles operating 15 hours per day to $700,000 for eight vehicles operating 56 total hours per day.

Unlike the downtown Milwaukee streetcar, there would not be a fixed route, Enders said.

“There is a desire of the city administration to improve traffic (flow),” Enders said. “This was a suggested concept by one of the consultants that has been researched. It all needs to be researched more heavily. At this point, it is just a concept.”

The plan also looks at the possibility of more density at Milwaukee County Research Park, a 175-acre office park southwest of I-41 and Watertown Plank Road. The Research Park is primarily privately owned, and about 95 percent of its 110 developable acres are developed, said Guy Mascari, executive director.

A significant amount of green space has been left at the Research Park, in accordance with a master plan that was created 20 years ago, Mascari said. The proposed master plan for the I-41/Watertown Plank Road area calls for putting buildings on much of that green space, which would be a shift in the original plan for the Research Park.

“Several studies done felt that (green space) would be attractive to technology companies and give this a feel of a college campus,” Mascari said. “If we add more density the stormwater system would need to be redone. And there is certainly an issue with traffic here.”

Mascari has not yet seen the master plan GRAEF has created, but has written a letter to Wauwatosa expressing his concerns.

“I hear they are calling for more density,” Mascari said. “Whether there is a market for that, it’s hard to tell.”

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