by Tom Daykin, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The transformation of Milwaukee’s Grand Avenue mall from a sad shell to a cutting edge development takes a huge step forward Thursday with the announcement of plans for a food hall featuring more than 20 local vendors and an anchor tenant bringing 170 employees downtown.
Known as 3rd Street Market Hall, the food hall will showcase food preparation with open kitchens, while also providing a place to hang out while people-watching, working on a laptop, or playing bocce and other games.
“The whole experience piece is what we want to bring,” restaurant operator Omar Shaikh, who’s overseeing the food hall, told the Journal Sentinel in an exclusive interview.
3rd Street Market Hall will use 35,000 square feet of street-level space connected to what is now the mall’s main entrance, 275 W. Wisconsin Ave. It will open in fall 2019.
Many of the mall’s first- and second-floor stores have closed, with others relocating by the end of February.
The mall’s central escalators also will be removed to make way for 3rd Street Market Hall, with the building to largely shut down in early 2019 for extensive renovations.
The office tenant is Graef USA, an engineering, planning and design firm that will move to the Grand Avenue’s third floor.
That space is now the mall food court. Most of those restaurants have shut down, with the remaining ones closing soon.
Graef is leasing nearly 35,000 square feet. The firm plans to move by January 2020 from Honey Creek Corporate Center. That office park is west of South 84th Street and north of I-94 on Milwaukee’s far west side.
Together, the food hall and Graef move are providing a multi-million dollar investment to the Grand Avenue — which will be renamed The Avenue.
The food hall, the mall’s parking structure and a planned tenant lounge helped attract Graef to The Avenue, according to a company statement. Other amenities cited by Graef include plans for second-floor co-working spaces for other businesses.
Finally, Graef wanted to be near other new and ongoing developments that are revitalizing downtown’s west side, said John Kissinger, president and chief executive officer.
“As engineers, planners and designers, we see not only what is, but have a vision for what will be, and our vision has taken us back downtown to The Avenue,” Kissinger said.
Food hall, anchor tenant should lure others
Both Graef’s commitment and the food hall plans will help draw other office tenants to The Avenue, according to its developers, Tony Janowiec and Joshua Krsnak.
The Avenue has 85,000 to 110,00 square feet of additional future office space on the mall’s second and third floors between the former Boston Store and North Second Street, they said.
Around 60,000 square feet of second-floor office space has been tentatively committed, Krsnak said. The identity of that tenant isn’t yet being disclosed.
The food hall is “a huge amenity” for office tenants, said Krsnak, president of Minneapolis-based Hempel Cos.
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While those steps were unfolding, work is finishing up on converting the second floor of the mall’s historic Plankinton Arcade, between North Second Street and North Plankinton Avenue, into 52 high-end apartments.
Those first units, ranging from studios to two-bedrooms, will be ready by January, said Janowiec, president of Interstate Development Partners LLC. The entire apartment project, known as Plankinton Clover, should be finished by March, he said, with monthly rents starting at just under $1,000.
Also, second-floor space north of the Plankinton Arcade is being converted into a fitness center and a 100-seat conference room for both apartment residents and office tenants.
But, the biggest news is the detailed plan for the long-awaited food hall — not to be confused with the food court.
Food courts were a fixture of malls developed in the 1970s and ’80s, with such fast food chains as Cinnabon and Rocky Rococo pizza.
Food halls showcase local restaurants, taverns and stands offering craft foods and drinks and made-from-scratch meals.
3rd Street Market Hall (the name is an homage to when North Third Street ran through what is now mall space) will have its vendors arranged around a centrally located bar. It will be the food hall’s focal point, said Shaikh, who will operate the bar.
There also will be a separate beer hall in the former Applebee’s restaurant next to The Avenue’s main entrance.
If it works, 3rd Street Market Hall should be active throughout the day — not just over the lunch hour.
Shaikh cited Brooklyn’s DeKalb Market Hall. It’s among several food halls he and his partners visited throughout the country while creating their plans for 3rd Street Market Hall.
“We were there two hours and I didn’t want to leave,” said Shaikh, president of Surg Restaurant Group LLC.
“People-watching is central to a great food hall,” said project architect Chris Socha, of TKWA UrbanLab.
The food and venue choices will vary.
There will be sit-down service with wait staff, as well as counter service. There also will be cubby holes “so you can get some privacy,” Shaikh said.
3rd Street Market Hall will have over 20 vendors, most of which have signed letters of intent to lease space there, he said. Vendors being announced Thursday are:
• Stone Creek Coffee, which has 14 locations including one next to the mall’s Plankinton Arcade. Stone Creek plans to keep that second-floor mall kiosk while also operating in the food hall.
• Funky Fresh Spring Rolls, which will replace its current Grand Avenue location.
• Char’d, a new Korean restaurant, in the Historic Third Ward at 222 E. Erie St., that will be opening its second location.
• Waterford Wine & Spirits, which operates stores at 1327 E. Brady St. and in Delafield, and will be opening its third location.
• Milk Can, a startup that will sell “local classics,” including burgers, cheese curds and frozen custard, created from scratch.
• Donut Monster, which began operating this summer at festival stands.
3rd Street Market Hall is a “perfect place for this new collection of food companies,” said Eric Resch, Stone Creek’s owner.
Stone Creek wants “to be part of the team the makes this a downtown destination,” he said.
Milk Can partner Kurt Fogle called the food hall “a great location for us to share our love of Wisconsin cuisine with the city of Milwaukee, downtown employees and visitors to all of the wonderful sports, entertainment and convention venues that are already in or coming to the neighborhood.”
3rd Street Market Hall also will feature bocce ball, pingpong tables and retro arcade video games.
“People want to do things while they hang out,” Janowiec said.
The idea is to create a welcoming, affordable place where people, including families, young singles and the happy hour crowd, will want to stay a while, Shaikh said.
“Millennials can break out their laptops,” he said.
Also, the design will encourage people to explore, project architect Socha said.
“The better food halls sort of reveal themselves as you walk through,” he said.
3rd Street Market Hall also will host private events, Janowiec said.
It also will complement, not cannibalize, the Milwaukee Public Market, Shaikh said. He said the public market focuses more on people who buy carry-out items.
Bought in 2015
Investment groups led by Krsnak and Janowiec in December 2015 bought the mall and its parking structure for $24.6 million, and in April 2016 revealed their redevelopment vision.
Krsnak and Janowiec have since bought other nearby properties, including the Matthews Building, which attaches to The Grand at West Wisconsin Avenue and North Old World Third Street, and attached retail and office space south of West Wisconsin Avenue between North Plankinton Avenue and the Milwaukee River.
Those acquisitions and renovations done so far total $65 million in spending by the developers, Krsnak said. The Avenue’s office and food hall renovations will cost another $30 million.
The Avenue’s redevelopment is among a series of other large projects on downtown’s west side, including the new Fiserv Forum, the future Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concert hall and the planned Wisconsin Center convention facility expansion.
Those projects, including The Avenue, have helped boost the long-lagging area of downtown’s west side — especially West Wisconsin Avenue.
“West Wisconsin Avenue is in the midst of a renaissance with activity and investment,” said city Development Commissioner Rocky Marcoux. “Developers are delivering on a vision that brings people together and adds economic activity.”