by Sean Ryan, Milwaukee Business Journal

The long-planned transformation of the Shops of Grand Avenue is moving forward as the owners create a food hall in its first floor, upper-floor office space and prepare to open new apartments.

Criticized for more than 10 years as a failing mall and a void west of the river in downtown Milwaukee, the Grand Avenue by early 2020 will likely be buzzing with new people. Renamed “The Avenue,” it could become another major draw for West Wisconsin Avenue, which is experiencing a revitalization thanks to the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s new performance hall and renovations to two office buildings neighboring the former mall.

A new food hall with more than 20 vendors will open in the first floor of the mall’s former New Arcade area at West Wisconsin Avenue and North Old World Third Street. The mall’s owners partnered with Milwaukee restaurateur Omar Shaikh to secure local vendors to fill booths in the planned food hall.

Dubbed 3rd Street Market Hall, it will have 20 vendors serving food out of booths, a central bar area and activities such as bocce and giant Jenga.

“We already have letters of intent for 75 percent of the locations within the space and they’re all chomping at the bit to be a part of what will become Milwaukee’s most eclectic and electric scene,” Shaikh said in a press release.

Vendors announced Thursday for that space include Stone Creek Coffee and a location for Char’d, Chef Yosub Yoon’s Korean 3rd Ward restaurant. Funky Fresh Spring Rolls, a Milwaukee company that also is in the Sherman Phoenix building, will have a booth. Chef Kurt Fogle’s Milk Can will offer burgers, cheese curds and custard, and Chef Jackie Woods and wife Sara will operate Donut Monster, featuring pastries with natural fruit flavors. Waterford Wine & Spirits will offer tastings.

The two floors above the food hall will be renovated into office space. The Avenue’s owners secured engineering firm Graef as an anchor tenant to fill the third floor, which formerly was the mall’s food court. That deal will bring about 170 Graef employees into the mall at the end of 2019, said president and CEO John Kissinger.

“We want to be part of something that is growing, not move into the established area and be on Rodeo Drive,” he said. “We love development, and we just like to be part of something like this.”

The major build-out of the office space required a tenant, which Graef finally provided with its 35,000-square-foot, 10-year lease. The second floor office space below Graef’s will be marketed to other tenants as an innovation hub with co-working spaces.

Construction recently launched for the office space and 3rd Street Market on the western end of the mall. The easternmost space of Grand Avenue is the historic Plankinton Arcade. Next month, 52 apartments are to open to residents in the arcade, some of which will feature storefronts opening onto the public skywalk that runs through the space.

“As others have correctly noted, a vibrant downtown must have spaces for people of different backgrounds and cultures to interact and we take our role in that extremely seriously,” said Tony Janowiec, co-owner of the property.

A large space between the apartments and the food hall will be renovated into amenities for the apartments and office space. That will include a large fitness center and conference room.

Janowiec teamed with Minneapolis developer Hempel Cos. to buy the Grand Avenue and its parking structure from a New York investor in December 2015. By that time, the mall had been under out-of-state ownership for a decade, was shedding tenants and overall was stagnating.

The owners since that time have cobbled together smaller deals as they put together the pieces for the mall’s larger transformation. They attracted new tenants including Bublr Bikes headquarters and a Fresenius Medical Care clinic. They acquired neighboring properties and worked to move tenants to clear space for the food hall and new office space.
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