Jeramey Jannene

Grand Avenue Mall – A New Implementation

By - Mar 29th, 2009 10:12 am
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As the retail market struggles nationally and the Shops of Grand Avenue struggles locally, it’s time to ask what retail should be in downtown Milwaukee in the next five years. Is it worth investing public dollars in the form of a TIF in Grand Avenue or other mall-like projects downtown, as has been done in the past? Or should the standard be that all retail must interact with the street?

I would argue the most economically sustainable approach, for the retailer, building owner, and the city, is for all retail to interact with the street.  The current alignment however at Grand Avenue is the mall versus the street.  And in case you haven’t been on west Wisconsin Avenue lately, both sides are losing.

The inward facing mall does not benefit from nearby venues, except during the lunch hour when the skywalk sees a stream of individuals head to the third-level food court.  The outward facing street that is the north side of west Wisconsin Avenue does not benefit from the mall located on the other side of the street, as Grand Avenue’s few outward facing stores fail to generate any form of street traffic that would make the area attractive.

The end result is failing stores and empty storefronts.

Grand Ave Mall.

Grand Ave Mall.

There is light at the end of the tunnel though.  With Grand Avenue currently on life support, the reality that the current owner, Ashkenazy Acquisitions Corp, is going to be looking for public dollars to support some form of renovation is growing more likely by the day.  This should be taken as a chance to do things right, and orient the mall around the street.  The plan being that increasing the retail availability on the street will certainly increase the values of non-mall properties, but will also strongly increase the value of the mall itself.  If public dollars are to be invested, the city should definitely get a positive externality of reactivity multiple blocks outside of the project itself.

How to achieve a street-based orientation?  Organize the retail locations by the level of impulse involved in purchasing.  The food court is currently located on the third floor, furthest away from the free advertising the street provides.  This should be reversed.  Pot Belly’s should be joined on Wisconsin Ave. by as many restaurants as possible from the food court.

The empty Linens & Things store provides easy space to start, Office Max and TJ Maxx should be reconfigured to be on the second-tier.  Utilizing the stairways that are currently blocked off, Office Max and TJ Maxx could have street-level retail space and a link to a second-level store.  This would allow for coveted street-signage and visibility, as well as a store layout that maximizes the mall’s capacity for street-level retail.

The old food court could become one of many things, but the best bet might actually be a school.  With the large number of charter schools springing up in Milwaukee, and MPS in its ever-present state of flux, I would imagine the surge in downtown Milwaukee residents would warrant a school at some point to serve them.  If not a school, a daycare center or job-training facility might be a nice fit.  The food court space, because of the mall’s skywalk connection, has good direct connectivity to numerous employment centers in the area, which might make young children (and parents) more at ease.  For green space for any youth-focused facility the underused Zeidler Park could be reconfigured.

The lower levels could largely be kept as is, with the notable exception of utilizing what is currently the large holiday season robot band in the first floor plaza space below the food court as a new indoor eating area for the winter.  An open dining space would serve to activate retail spaces inside the mall that see diminished traffic counts because of the move to street-level retail.

The second floor, the further the unit is from an entrance, could be transitioned from retail space into small office and non-impulse retail space.  Dentists, tailors, small financial firms, etc, etc could be more heavily marketed to.  Units near entrances could maintain their function as retail spaces (Old Navy as an example of one in this role already).

At the end of the day, one of the things that certainly needs to change is that more street signage for the individual tenants should be installed.  It should be lighted signage so that it’s visible at night and jumps out.  The mall is on Wisconsin Avenue in an urban area without much in the way of residents on the street, the signage should be nearly something onto itself, like it is in Times Square.

West Wisconsin

West Wisconsin

With the redevelopment of the Shops of Grand Avenue you would hope to see increased retail in the other empty spaces along Wisconsin Avenue.  By allowing Wisconsin Avenue itself to be a retail destination, you would anticipate spillover onto side streets that you’re not seeing now.  The massive underutilized of the land on the intersections of Wells and 2nd Street and Wells and 3rd Street would become a prime spot for redevelopment.  Mixed-use buildings on those intersections would further add to the street life of the area.

One thing the area sorely lacks is nightlife.  West Wisconsin Avenue is a ghost town at night.  It would probably be good for more bars to occupy the stretch, as well as simply more businesses that are open late.  The proposed Ghazi development would help this, as would development of empty retail spaces on the north side of the block.  The biggest thing however will be the flexibility to change the hours of mall if it is oriented to the street.  Currently the mall closes at 7 p.m.  A street-orientation would allow the stores to set their own hours, and enhance the safety and vibrancy of the street.

Redeveloping the Shops of Grand Avenue isn’t going to be cheap, but the mall and the street are on a death spiral as it is now.  A wisely done redevelopment could increase the value of all of the properties in the area, and create an organic, market-driven path to future growth in the area.

West Wisconsin Avenue is one of the first areas people often see in downtown Milwaukee.  It plays a crucial role in establishing someone’s first impression of downtown.  We need a healthy and vibrant mix of uses on the block.

In Summary…

1. The mall is failing and will presumably need a public investment via TIF dollars at some time in the near future.

2. Moving the food court to the street-level and orienting it around Wisconsin Avenue will drive up pedestrian traffic, increasing the street life and improving all businesses along West Wisconsin Avenue.  This will also allow businesses to stay open later if they don’t depend on mall access, this will generate higher profits, which means higher rents.

3. The third floor (old food court space) could be used for an office tenant(s), single large retail tenant, daycare, or educational institution.  Zeidler Park could be reconfigured to yield green space.

4. The open plaza on the first level that currently is filled by robots playing music could be an indoor eating venue in the winter.

6. The second floor could be transitioned to attract tenants not reliant on impulse retail.  Outdoor signage could be given for every tenant.

7. The increased activity taking place on Wisconsin should fuel growth in nearby under-utilized areas, such as this intersection.  The increased signage should make the area seem a little bit more alive at night, allowing businesses to be open later would help this.

Categories: Real Estate

36 thoughts on “Grand Avenue Mall – A New Implementation”

  1. Frank says:

    Thank you for taking the time to address this issue!

    We’ve been a tenant at Grand Avenue Mall since 1986, and still believe that, architecturally, Grand Avenue is one of the most engaging centers in the state. Yes, many urban centers have had similar problems over the past ten years. But, without a thriving downtown shopping experience, it is extremely difficult to keep tourism returning.

    Some of the neceesary retail changes could take years, and some downtown retailers can’t quite stretch it out that long.

    There are also a lot of new retailers who are choosing to open on the street (Third Ward, Brady St., Kinnickinnic, etc.,) instead of choosing a mall. I still wish that there could be a financial incentive (i.e. rent escalations over 5 years, free build-outs, more grass-roots marketing, tax incentives) to attract local boutiques to open in a certain part of Grand Avenue. The mall could potentially attract 12-20 new young, energetic, ambitious and exciting small retailers. To the word-of-mouth community, that could do a lot for the mall in the next 5-10 years, while the larger infrastructure changes were discussed.

    Thank you again. I would love to discuss the issue further!

    Frank Keppler
    Brew City Brand Apparel

  2. Alex says:

    I think that there should be more retailers like target or Shopko. This will bring more crowd onto the street and will also benefit the little retailers and the food court as well. Also, it might be a good idea to put a part of the route of the new street car. Since there is an urbanization going on around the downtown area and there is a lot of young folks moving in, there will be a need for retailers in downtown.

  3. Chuck Laskey says:

    Well said Jeramey. I remember watching the creation of the Grand Avenue Mall. As I recall it, the original promise of the mall was to bring shoppers, and their dollars, into the city from the suburbs, hence the reverse orientation. That didn’t last long, as much of the suburbanites have become firmly entrenched in the anti-city mindset. The competition from Mayfair and Brookfield has won using massive remodeling and marketing budgets.
    What no one really foresaw at that time was the influx of people who now live in the downtown area. Several of my friends who live downtown have pretty much said the same thing. “I walk to the market once or twice a week but never bother to stop at the G.A. There’s nothing there I’m interested in.” Turning it into a street friendly mall looks like the only way to keep it alive now.
    There is no worse blight on the landscape of any city than a dead mall. See Northridge.

  4. Suzanne says:

    This is brilliant. The concept of “Walkable Urbanity” that exists in such a large part of Chicago never ceases to amaze me- it would be fantastic if the Grand Avenue could be an anchor for that here in Milwaukee. I do walk downtown, for instance from City Hall south and across the river to the very friendly Borders entrance right on the corner. Also, there are so many people in that area from all manner of conventions, and they sort of spill out at lunchtime- a built-in audience for browsing and, yes, buying.

  5. Jeff says:

    I like the big thinking. The mall really needs to be reimagined as a whole, not as the incremental changes we’ve seen over the years. As somebody who lives and works downtown, I find the mall increasingly less relevant to my needs and wants. I can think of several ways to improve upon this site off the top of my head… Modernize the architecture, more entertainment, live music, family activities, movies, bowling, video games, bars and nightlife, arts & craft vendors, transportation connecting to the airport and art museum, the list goes on…

    This city has a long reputation of ignoring the successes of other cities. We’ve never been a leader in this kind of thing, so the least we can do is follow the examples set by cities like Minneapolis, Boston, Seattle, etc… I know, it’s easier said than done. But if we don’t take bold steps to improve our downtown, we will always be a city on the sprawl.

  6. Jason Haas says:

    I’ll just say bravo for thinking about this and writing about it in such good detail. While I’m usually focused on my life which orbits between UWM and the south side, working downtown last year brought that area into the light for me. And it is rather lifeless, which seems a shame, looking at the many apparently empty buildings and storefronts. And the Grand Theater, why isn’t that alive? We have Riverside and the Pabst within blocks; is three too many? Perhaps with W. Wisc. Ave in the state that it’s in. But I can tell that area has potential to blossom again.

  7. Jason Haas says:

    In fact, this post inspired me to make a rather detailed blog post of my own about Milwaukee’s history, with many details about the Mitchell family, Grand Avenue (now Wisconsin Avenue), and even the mall itself. The only thing that I didn’t include in that was that there used to be a lush hotel there at what is now the Shops of the Grand Avenue, and I believe Gen. MacArthur once took residence in that hotel.

    “History: we has it!”

  8. Jesse says:

    The Grand can be a great urban space, but we can’t kid ourselves that the city will put together another huge TIF for this or that the mall’s owners will give carte blanche to anyone redesigning this space.

    Food Court: Improve the space, maintain/expand a diverse lineup of restaurants, and make this a destination that the area can be proud of. This can be more than just a foodcourt and it doesn’t have to emulate the public market to get there.

    Skywalks/Retail Space: Utilize the skywalks to their full ability while also engaging the surrounding streets. Get rid of the walkways on the 1st floor similiar to the Plankington Arcade. Push many of the retailers currently on the 1st floor to only have access to the street or via the Skywalk. This would both eliminate the empty feel of the mall, but bring more people onto the surrounding sidewalks and 2nd level skywalk.

    Who this mall serves: To be successfull long-term, the Grand needs to learn it can’t be all things to all people. This space needs to be refocused as a neighborhood destination for retail. The convention/suburban shoppers will not be consistent enough to make this place a success, as we have seen. Cater to the immediate residents and neighborhoods, the workers, and visitors to nearby events to build positive momentum and see a transformation of the area. It really does have great potential.

    Very good article and comments!

  9. Frank says:

    After reading a little, I’m adding a comment to my earlier post. I think that, for several reasons, Grand Avenue is obviously at a crossroads:

    1. Many small-market urban malls have faced challenges in the past ten years, as many customers go home to the suburbs at night, leaving downtown areas empty. This even happens in Chicago on weekdays! Ask some retailers at Water Tower Place how many tourists they get compared to “local” customers…it’s probably 50-to-1. Chicago’s Miracle Mile wouldn’t work, if it was aimed at the Chicago customer.

    2. The economy has created a survival-of-the-fittest situation for many retailers–and now–even for malls.

    3. Milwaukee people have always been loyal to suburban malls. The comment, “I don’t go downtown,” has existed since I first opened a kiosk. In order for a downtown center to thrive, there must be a mix of lunch business, locals, and tourism. To be honest, “locals” has always come in third, for most downtown malls. For Grand Avenue to become a “locals” center, I would estimate that there would need to be 10,000-20,000 new downtown residents, living within a 5-mile radius of the mall, to impact it’s success.

    4. Tourism has changed. If you look back on Convention calendars, back in the late-80’s to mid-90’s, Milwaukee would sometimes get 20,000-100,000 tourists per week, depending on the convention that was in town, July and August being particularly huge. Many retailers had a larger August than they had a December, back in the early days of Grand Avenue! We have to admit that, if we are going to spend money to improve Grand Avenue, it’s mostly for tourism. Yes, it’s amazing to get more people downtown. We deserve a great mall. But, it’s pretty scary to think that we’re going to have the funds to develop something that competes with Mayfair, BayShore, or the new Pabst Farms development, and brings those suburban customers downtown on a daily, weekly, monthly basis.

    5. I agree with Jesse, that, unless we agree to add a “Miller Park” style % onto our sales tax, the sweeping changes Grand Avenue needs are going to be hard to fund. Some of the earlier comments on what the mall needs to survive are exactly right. But, I believe we’re talking about a $20-40 million renovation. If a philanthropist comes along and names the mall after him/herself, then it’s totally possible! Or, if a corporation wants naming rights, and believes in downtown that strongly, it could also happen. Or, if we begin a long and sustained partnership with government, perhaps there are cooperative solutions there, as well.

    6. Don’t forget that Grand Avenue attempted to become a Discount-style mall, bringing in TJ Maxx and Linens and Things to trigger a tipping point, to lure dozens of other discounters as tenants. Many experts believe that our chance to make Grand Avenue a pure discount mall are past. There may have been a Target deal going on behind the scenes, but it doesn’t seem as likely now. Someone mentioned Shopko earlier, but I don’t know about that potential deal.

    7. Grand Avenue’s roof was built, and it came with a promise to incubate and strengthen the “street-style” local retailer. Between 1982-1996, it did that. Some strong Milwaukee retailers still in existence today were born from that time. If we wonder, “What happened to Grand Avenue?” it’s as simple as that. You must allow for retail to grow in the center. If there is going to be money spent on the mall, it should start with a new mission statement, which gives new and emerging retailers MAJOR incentives and financial breaks for opening in the center. What if Moda 3 had opened there? What if Anthropologie had opened there? What if Freckle Face had opened there? What if Detour had opened there? What if Milwaukee Ale House had opened there? I bet that every single one of them had the choice, and passed on Grand Avenue for a more dynamic, urban, street-style retail experience, which was more cost-effective for them, in the first five years of their business plan. The mall is not attracting those young entrepreneurs.

    8. I guess that, my largest difference with many of the previous posts, comes down to the question, “Can locals help Grand Avenue to rebound?” I hope the answer is “Yes,” but, it’s not quite that easy. Can we get the Bastille Days festival-goer to stop at Grand Avenue before they return home? Can we get the Summerfest band-goer to make a visit to Grand Avenue before their concert? Can we get the Harley-Davidson 110th rider to stop at Grand Avenue for shopping and dinner? Can we get the Milwaukee Art Museum architecture-lover to stop at Grand Avenue on the way home? So far, the answer has been a resounding, “No.” We haven’t been able to do that. Since 1982, Grand Avenue has been at it’s best when lunch professionals and tourists ruled the center.

    9. If we think that there is $20-40 million out there, to completely raze the center to the ground and re-face it, so that us (although well-deserved) urban-dwellers can have a cool shopping mall, it’s extremely unlikely. Unless we’re really organized, positive, loud, consistent, and persistent, we are looking at putting the mall back to a survival point, until Milwaukee has a chance to let some of the tourism dollars rebound. However, if we structure the future of Grand Avenue in the following way: The future of tourism in Milwaukee is doomed without a contemporary mall–something might happen which we can all share.

    I hope I wasn’t too opinionated!

    Frank

  10. Jeff Jordan says:

    Great Idea’s and a timely column. I agree with the implied comment that shopping downtown should not be an attempt to build a Suburban Mall downtown. Second floor locations have always been difficult, but your suggestions make sense.
    I would second the suggestions for more entertainment options, better and more seamless integration with other downtown destinations. I hate seeing films in a cineplex, but I understand that in a downtown location they are a necessary component.

  11. Jeff says:

    Good discussion! To Frank’s point No. 3: “For Grand Avenue to become a “locals” center, I would estimate that there would need to be 10,000-20,000 new downtown residents, living within a 5-mile radius of the mall, to impact it’s success.”

    Well, right now there are more than 200,000 residents within 5 miles of the mall. Why are developers and the city willing to let them all head to suburban malls? Downtown, the Upper and Lower East Sides, the near West Side, the Third Ward/Fifth Ward/Walker’s Point–these make up downtown’s natural market area, but many people seem to think downtown is an island unto itself. I don’t get it. By narrowly defining the market, you’re dooming downtown to failure.

  12. Jeff O says:

    Different Jeff here…

    With all the new condos being built downtown, maybe those developers should also be thinking also about what makes a person want to live downtown, and invest in the downtown neighborhood as well. There’s obviously money out there to build, but nobody is moving in because they don’t like what’s going on in the area.

  13. Jeff O says:

    One other thing… If the place is to be completely rebuilt/reimagined, it must have a new name. The Grand Avenue name just reeks of failure.

  14. Douglas Glatzel says:

    I agree, change the name. Grand Avenue evokes the same feelings as “Capitol Court” or “Northridge”.

    The mall shouldn’t compete with Mayfair or Bayshore. Nobody is going to drive downtown to go to Foot Locker, Boston Store, or Applebee’s. Especially if it closes at 7 and you have to pay for parking. There has to be something to get people to open up their wallets for parking or “risk” their safety in the “scary ” downtown. Something unique that cannot be found in the metro area—like an IKEA for instance. Which is probally never going to happen with the economy.

    What I would like to see is some sort of “bazaar”–offering a diverse selection of products/services. Antiques, handmade/unique clothes, local made artwork/paintings, music, barbershops, jewelers, etc. Basically, let anyone who wants to sell something have a spot to do so—-at low rental rates. I have seen something like this recently at Southridge, with vendors selling random items such as candles, t-shirts, craftwork, etc. Cut the storefronts in half and make the shopping experience more intimate. Basically make the mall itself an incubator for small business, art, fashion, etc. Its radical, I know, but I think its more exciting then another Banana Republic and Abercrombie and Fitch.

    BTW–I love the Brew City store!

  15. Frank says:

    Wow, thank you! I totally agree with the small unique retailer approach, by the way. I feel like we have to change from the inside out…meaning from the retailers out to the architecture.

    I’m amazed at the comments on this issue. Even if people disagree, I think that we all think that there needs to be a vibrant urban shopping center. Sometimes, listening to all the politics over the past ten years in Milwaukee…we don’t seem to have much time for Grand Avenue talk!

    Frank

  16. MilwaukeeD says:

    There are already two TIFs for Grand Avenue (#37 and #46). You would not be able to create a new TIF to renovate the the existing mall because very little increment would be created and you need that increment to pay off the existing TIFs.

    All of these ideas are great and need to happen, but it will be very difficult to have additional public investment to make this happen.

  17. BJP says:

    I live downtown right near the Grand Avenue Shops. When Linens N Things closed, I wrote to Sendik’s suggesting they open a downtown store in the space – maybe a somewhat limited selection, geared more towards office workers and the lunch crowd, but also offer products to downtown residents. No response from Sendik’s.

    There really is very limited grocery/housewares shopping available right downtown. Walgreen’s closes at 7:00, and at 5:00 on Sundays. Even adding a 7-11 store to the mix would be a help to the residents and hotel guests nearby. Target would be a fantastic addition, but I think they require more space than Grand Ave can accommodate.

    Overall I agree that street-side retail and restaurants are key, but a massive overhaul of the entire mall seems too costly and onerous. I’m glad this topic is being discussed, because it sorely needs attention. Thanks all!

  18. rick says:

    yes! lets use public dollars. Taxes taxes yeah taxes!

    A better idea would be to wait for the economy to rebound and then get private developers to take it over.

    It’s a valuable piece of property.

  19. Jesse says:

    For any interested, here is another article about the Grand. Check out the commentary too, as they offer an alternative version to why the mall is in it’s current state and improvement ideas.

    http://www.labelscar.com/wisconsin/grand-avenue-mall

  20. Martin says:

    One option that should be strongly considered for the mall is attracting a national (or international) anchor tenant to fill up part of the empty space in the mall. Ideally, this tenant should be one that would be expanding to the Milwaukee market by coming into Grand Avenue, so that it does not have to compete with other locations at different malls in the area. This would bring shoppers in not only from the city of Milwaukee, but from the surrounding area, as people would have to go to Grand Avenue to shop at the anchor. The new foot traffic in the mall spurred by this addition could then potentially revitalize the entire mall.

    My suggestion is IKEA. There are no IKEA locations in the Milwaukee area yet, so putting an IKEA store in Grand Avenue AND ONLY IN GRAND AVENUE would attract customers from the entire Milwaukee area to the mall. IKEA is known internationally and is well-received, so people would come into the city to shop at IKEA instead of patronizing a suburban mall.

    Any comments? Ideas? I have already sent an e-mail to IKEA’s corporate about this (but have received no real response) and have sent an e-mail to Mayor Barrett’s office with the idea (also without any response). I’d like to get this idea out to the public–it just might help to save the mall.

  21. Frank says:

    I would love that solution.

    I’m not a leasing specialist, but many large retailers look at the numbers the mall is currently pulling, which makes it tough to lure some retailers.

    In the worst case scenario, we would have to offer them free rent, free buildout, and tax incentives in order for them to consider the expansion.

    If we are ready to make those types of sweeping decisions, across both government and real estate, we could really focus in and land a retailer of that caliber.

    Frank

  22. Dave Reid says:

    @Martin I don’t think the Grand Ave really fits an IKEA. The amount of parking and the size of the store that IKEA designs for isn’t generally friendly to an urban environment. (unless they have a new design I’m unaware of)

  23. Jermaine jackson says:

    The Grand Avenue Mall needs to be revamped as well as Wisconsin Ave where The Grand is situated. It is a ghost town down there and kind of sad when you remember how it used to be. The Grand ie downtown needs stores that you would find out of state that people would normally shop online at or drive to hours away as well as food places. The Grand movie theater needs to reopen. How in the hell do you have a downtown without a movie theater and the Oriental does not count. Bring on IKEA,Target, Big Boy, Gino’s East, video arcade, etc.

  24. Martin says:

    Dave, I have not heard of an urban-friendly IKEA store design. Every IKEA store in the US thus far is literally a “big box” surrounded by parking lot. On the other hand, IKEA is a European company, and I can’t imagine the US store design working out in a city such as Munich or Stockholm. Plus, even if IKEA doesn’t have such a store design, it could easily be a possibility for their future development into the US market. Their furniture definitely has an “urban” feel to it, so when they are expanding into heavily urbanized markets (such as New York, Chicago, or San Francisco), an urban store design would definitely help them. If Milwaukee would be the first such design, its success could then be applied to other urban markets.

    And of course, IKEA is not the only option. I definitely agree with Jermaine–there are many other companies that have yet to make an appearance in the Milwaukee area that would attract customers from across the region like IKEA would. But which would have a similar draw? I’m not really sure about that. Does anyone have ideas on this?

  25. Dave Reid says:

    @Martin My point about IKEA is they, to my knowledge, don’t have an urban store and it is almost impossible to get companies to deviate from their base design. So an IKEA just isn’t a likely option.

  26. Cory Triolo says:

    I thought about entering Ashkenazy’s “Retail Therapy” contest for one year’s free base rent. But it requires a two year commitment, with the second year being 8% of sales, plus other ancillary charges (in both years). And Ashkenazy gets to pick the location in the mall. Gee, I wonder where that would be. Upper level, Plankinton Arcade, buried in the hallway leading to the Marriott? I’ve already had businesses in Grand Avenue and the traffic is just not there. The mall needs to be reconfigured, and to leverage Ashkenazy’s other properties to get Grand Avenue rented. It must package Grand Ave as a pre-requisite location for space in some of its more attractive centers. Stores need to face Wisconsin Avenue with access from the street. The parking garages need to be relocated across the street, on the block where the former Gimbels parking structure is located. That entire block could be annexed. The current Grand Ave garages could be leveled to make room for two more mid-tier anchors like JC Penny or Van Maur, and a grocery store like Sendiks. Stores could be built to compliment the anchors and face outward toward Michigan Ave. TJ Maxx could be moved to one of the anchor spots. A satellite police station could be housed in the basement of the Plankinton Arcade where Patricia Stevens Career College used to be, to establish a presence in the mall. A counter for the post office could be housed in the Plankinton Arcade, as well as a DMV counter with limited services. These changes might drive traffic to the mall. Decor could incorporate Milwaukee’s historic past, rather than the goofy outdated, non-themed interior. Music needs to again resonate through the hallways. A sense of interest, activity, and excitement needs to be cultivated. General Growth has filed for bankruptcy. It would be a great time to make Steve Smith an offer he couldn’t refuse to come back as General Manager of Grand Avenue. The man has talent, and he managed to get the center leased under his leadership. When he went to Mayfair, Grand Avenue suffered. And finally give the place a new name.

  27. Roy says:

    I wish that the Shops at Grand Avenue would be built up more with some bigger labels or even some useful local labels. I really don’t like the fact that you have to leave the downtown area to go to some of these places to get things done. I moved here from San Francisco and before that I lived in Philadelphia, New York City, and Washington DC, so I would love to see Milwaukee take that step and bring this city into the future.This is a beautiful building that has so much potential and I surely am one that even if the items cost slightly more, I would still pay it to not have to leave the downtown area.

  28. Frank says:

    I totally agree with that. To move into the future, Milwaukee must have a strong shopping destination. Grand Ave. is architecturally amazing, and isn’t so large of a center that you’re constantly filling vacancies. However, it will take a while before large chain retailers take the chance on this mall, when they see the household income averages out near the suburban areas. I don’t think it’s a matter of what the mall management wants to do…it’s more a matter of re-buidling, one retailer at a time.

  29. Cory Triolo says:

    Is Ashkenazy doing anything to improve this property and sign new tenants? It just keeps spiraling downward. I see no efforts being made whatsoever. The mall marketing director is totally green, and in my opinion is making a fool of herself with her “bubble gum” comments to the press. “We can’t say who the new tenant is, because the ink isn’t dry yet.” Sweetheart, let’s be honest: the pen was never out. She has also raced around to other malls, talking to former owners of boutique shops, some of which were long-time tenants of Grand Avenue Mall that had left some time ago. Does this woman not do any homework? I feel sorry for her. Ashkenazy has not given her any mall history, so if she doesn’t understand the former culture of the mall, how can she be effective in finding qualified tenants.

    Ashkenazy, you talk a big game, but you are more useless than Simon Group when it comes to neglecting their “C” tier malls. Hey, get off your asses and DO something! Read labelscar.com. Many people have posted very meaningful entries on the history of the mall, as well as future ideas to bring this mall back from the brink of extinction. And some of the ideas are quite noteworthy. Hail Grand Avenue, the next Machesney Park Mall, and future addition to deadmalls.com. Thanks Ashkenazy, for bringing all of your self-touted “talent” and “expertise” to Milwaukee.

  30. Cory Triolo says:

    Looks like more stores are leaving the Grand Avenue. Now the New Arcade side is emptying out. How sad.

  31. Dave Reid says:

    @Cory Triolo It is sad, though I’d guess it likely has more to do with the economy.

  32. Cory Triolo says:

    Dave, I wish the economy were the problem with regard to Grand Avenue. I have previously managed and owned businesses in that mall almost from its inception through 1993 when things took a dramatic turn for the worse. I work in finance, and I can honestly say that while the economy has a strong impact on retail, there are a number of retailers posting gains of around 4% average compared to comp same store sales last year. We have come to blame the economy for many things. For example, it is easier for a company to say that, in the interest of shareholders, they cannot afford to pay a Christmas bonus due to economic conditions. It sounds much better.

    If you read the blog labelscar.com, type in Grand Avenue. You will see a list of several malls, and if you scroll down about six headings, you will see Grand Avenue. If you click on the comments, you will see about 113 comments, many of which are mine, under the moniker CoryTJ. I detail the history of the mall, including a roster of hundreds of stores that have come and gone in Grand Avenue, as well as my suggestions for the mall. I still think the presence of a satellite police terminal in the lower level of Grand Avenue would serve to promote a sense of safety in the mall, as well as a positive energy from increased traffic. Furthermore, I think Grand Avenue could benefit from housing service oriented businesses and government agencies. How about a “DMV Express”, for those that have simple license renewal issues. A USPS counter at the mall would serve to bring an influx of traffic. A FedEx Office housed in conjunction with a cafe area complete with meeting areas and laptop-friendly wi-fi terminals would be a welcomed addition for businessmen. It could fill a void as a “one-stop-shop” to transact business with vendors that might choose the adjacent Marriott Hotels as their housing destination. For example, I had to recently meet with a 401K vendor I work with. He stayed at the Courtyard. It would have been ideal for me to have been able to meet with him and compile all our presentation materials right there in the center, rather than have him come to my office and fend for parking. Grand Avenue desperately needs businesses and services that will appeal to the people with the fiscal ability to support the center. The mall does not need knock -off hip hop clothing vendors, cell phone kiosks, and nail salons that detract from the landscape of the area, and do not effectively target the clientele that could potentially utilize Grand Avenue. Let’s be creative here, as well. Milwaukee does NOT need another “lifestyle center” like Bayshore, which I think will ultimately fail when the novelty of the concept has run its course.

    In my opinion, Grand Avenue started its decline with the departure of the management team under Steve Smith. Steve used to walk the mall every morning with the management team. He was militant. Not a single burnt out lightbulb would escape his attention. The mall security under Fernando Perez did an excellent job of maintaining order in the center. The “glory days” of Grand Avenue are gone, because the “glory” is gone. There is absolutely no pride taken in the facility anymore. Is there even music piped into the common areas anymore? The mall’s current owner, Ashkenazy Acquisitions has done little, if anything, to capitalize on the opportunities offered by the unique center. Rouse was a horrible company to work with, and they didn’t compromise on rents, but I fear Ashkenazy may be even more an obstacle. You would have to ask one of the current tenants that has been there since the mall’s inception. If any of the Kepplers are reading this, I’d be interested to hear their weigh-in on The Grand Avenue.

  33. Dave Reid says:

    @Cory Oh, you’re definitely right there are issues, and I’m partial to the substation idea as well. And it’s true a lot of times “the economy” is an excuse (sometimes by bad business owners when they fail too), though some of the closing were certainly connected to the what’s going on in the U.S. right now.. Linen N Things for example closed all their stores I believe.

  34. ddvmke says:

    A few weeks before reading this blog I was actually through the mall to, you guessed it, get some food while running around downtown (why is the food still on the 3rd floor?) and couldn’t help notice just how depressing this place has become even compared to 4 or 5 years ago when I moved down for school. I don’t think I saw more than 20 people in the mall before entering the ‘food area.’ I’ve read a lot of the comments on several different posts about the mall on this website and strongly agree with Cory Triolo’s idea about creating a on stop business meeting place downtown and also several past mentioning of street oriented stores. Its almost as if you are entering another dimension when you go into the mall where you can no longer see or experience the city. I would love to be able to enter stores from the street and feel like I am still downtown. Also, not sure if this has been mentioned as a possibility but I would love to not have to drive to Hwy 100 or Brown Deer Rd for a Best Buy, and not have to leave the area to continue going out for the night once the retail in the mall closes, why can’t we bring it all together? I also visited the website (sad compared to others’ in the area) and can’t believe that all of the stores they list are actually still in the mall. And I can’t believe I’m the first to say this but I feel like the interior looks like a giant toy store or something out of a cartoon…Since when are kids the dominating shopping force downtown?

  35. Lori says:

    It is too bad that Grand Avenue mall didn’t capture all of the wedding retailers that jumped ship from Mitchell Street. The East end of the mall could have been a beautiful “one stop” shopping for bridal parties.

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