by Rick Barrett, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The owners of the Shops of Grand Avenue have acquired the upper floors of the adjacent Matthews Building as part of their plan to renovate the mall and create more downtown office space.

Tony Janowiec and his partners, Chuck Biller and Josh Krsnak, bought the Grand Avenue and its parking structure a year ago for $24.6 million. That purchase did not include separately owned buildings, such as the Boston Store building, that are attached to the mall.

In April, the new owners unveiled plans to redevelop the mall into a mix of upper level offices and a grocery store, other stores and restaurants on the street level. Their focus has been on recruiting anchor office and retail tenants, which would help them obtain financing to redevelop the property.

Friday, Janowiec, president of Interstate Parking Co., said he and his partners have bought the third through sixth floors of the Matthews Building – at W. Wisconsin Ave. and N. Old World 3rd St. – in addition to the first and second floors they already owned.
“This is a strategic acquisition so that we control the entire building, which is important for the overall redevelopment of the Grand Avenue mall and the Matthews Building in a combined fashion,” Janowiec said.

Wisconsin Ave. has long been known as Milwaukee’s de facto “Main Street,” but the western end of the boulevard has languished in the past three decades.

The redevelopment of the Grand Avenue mall and the adjacent properties could go a long way toward its revitalization, according to Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

“I think what they are proposing to do with the Grand Avenue, along with the potential for a new home for the Milwaukee Symphony and the Marcus (Corp.) proposal to develop 4th Ave., I would call this a big booster shot for W. Wisconsin Ave.,” Sheehy said.
“As long as I have been involved in running the chamber, which is probably 25 years, I would be hard-pressed to find another three-year period like this one. … The downtown development is unprecedented,” he added.

The sale price of the upper floors of the Matthews building was $1.48 million, and the previous owner is affiliated with Milwaukee-based Wispark LLC. Tenants include Wispark, Menomonee Valley Partners and United Performing Arts Fund.

Historically, the Matthews Building had its main entrance on Wisconsin Ave. That entrance was eliminated in the 1980s, Janowiec said, and most recently that street-level space was filled by an OfficeMax store that’s since left.

“We are reinstalling a modern office lobby where it originally was on the first floor, so the Matthews Building will again have its own identity and its own entrance on Wisconsin Ave.,” Janowiec said.

About half of the building is vacant. There’s space for tenants up to about 10,000 square feet, or more, depending on the configuration.

“We have offers out to a couple of different firms, and they tend to be ones looking for a full 8,000 to 10,000 square feet,” Janowiec said.

“The building is beautiful inside. It was built out very nicely by the previous owner and works well for just about any type of office space. The third floor, in particular, can be connected to the Grand Avenue’s third floor … if a tenant needed that much collective square footage,” he said.

“Strategically, the acquisition recombines the building as one operating unit. And that’s really important for the overall redevelopment of the Grand Avenue, particularly as it relates to connecting the Matthews third floor to the Grand Avenue’s third floor.”

The new owners have said they want to convert the top two floors of the Grand Avenue into roughly 120,000 square feet of offices. That space would take advantage of the center court atrium’s skylights, and additional windows, to give it an open feel.

They also have big plans for the Matthews Building.

“It has, more or less, lost its identity because of the original development of the mall. We are planning on bringing the identity back,” Janowiec said.

More details about the redevelopment of the Matthews Building and the mall are expected in early 2017.