By Sean Ryan, Milwaukee Business Journal

 

The ongoing redevelopment of The Shops of Grand Avenue could receive $9 million in city financing under a proposal up for review this month.

That money would support the renovation of the former mall, which is renamed The Avenue. The west arcade area is being converted into upper-floor offices and a ground-level food hall, both of which could open late this year. The project also will rebuild the main entrance to the property at West Wisconsin Avenue and North Old World Third Street, creating a public plaza. 

The city money helps cover the cost of the plaza and maintaining the public walkway that runs through the entire property, said The Avenue co-owner Tony Janowiec. The city maintains a public walkway throughout the property stretching from the Plankinton Building, at Wisconsin and Plankinton avenues, to Old World Third Street.

“Without it, the economics would not support keeping the public spaces in the building, they would not support the adaptive reuse,” Janowiec said. “This project is really unique in that there’s such an enormous amount of public space in the building. We’re basically maintaining a two-and-a-half block skyway.”

Milwaukee development commissioner Rocky Marcoux said the city funding is solely for preserving the public connections within The Avenue, including the skywalk spanning Wisconsin Avenue to the 310W building.

“We’ve been pretty clear all along that we weren’t interested in subsidizing the office there, that would give them an unfair advantage,” Marcoux said. “We wanted to preserve the public right-of-way and the public’s ability to move back and forth in those buildings.”

The public walkway will run through the first-floor food hall, Janowiec said. That food hall will have more than 20 vendors. 

“We’re building a world-class food hall, but it is actually a public space,” he said. 

The public walkway originally ran through the west arcade’s second level, which is being converted into private offices. Engineering firm Graef is to move 170 workers there before the end of this year.

Also this year, the building facade at Wisconsin Avenue and Old World Third Street, including the large glass entrance box resembling a fish tank, will be completely removed, Janowiec said. The former Applebee’s restaurant space will be redesigned into a first-floor beer hall, also run by a local vendor, that will open into the food hall and onto the plaza. 

“Part of that allows for an indoor-outdoor experience between the beer hall and the plaza,” Janowiec said. “This would be a locally developed concept specifically for The Avenue’s beer hall.”

The food and beer halls are hoped to open late this year, Janowiec said, but could be pushed into 2020. 

The exterior work will follow the same timeline.

The city’s $9 million contribution would come through a proposed tax incremental financing district. It is the first public financing proposed for the Grand Avenue’s redevelopment under its current ownership. Janowiec teamed with Minneapolis developer Hempel Cos. to buy the Grand Avenue and its parking structure from a New York investor in December 2015.  

The proposed TIF district would make annual cash payments to The Avenue development group for up to 18 years. It would essentially serve as a refund on the building’s property taxes.

The city anticipates The Avenue redevelopment would create $36 million in new property value. That includes an expected $6.5 million in new value from the apartments that have already been built into the Plankinton Arcade area of the mall.

A public hearing on the TIF plan is scheduled for March 21.