Hammes Moving Downtown in 2018
Another company moving from suburbs to Downtown and with unusual architectural style.
“The sun is shining again on Milwaukee,” Mayor Tom Barrett proclaimed at a press conference this morning. Barrett had reason to be excited: the city has attracted another firm to move downtown with no public subsidy. The mayor went on to note that “[the move] sends a signal to other businesses that this is the place you want to be.”
Where is that place you want to be? While the mayor was referring to the booming Downtown and city as a whole, the press conference was held at 210 E. Knapp St., a vacant lot in the Park East corridor. Beginning in December, Miron Construction will begin building a new five-story, 94,000 square-foot office building that will serve as the headquarters for Hammes Company. CEO and founder Jon Hammes and 79 other employees will relocate to the building at the start of 2018 from suburban Brookfield. Hammes is a real estate development company that specializes in healthcare facilities.
Alderman Nik Kovac, who represents the area Hammes will relocate to, noted in his remarks “I think a lot of people were confused for a while that the Park East was for parking.” No more says Kovac, ticking off projects from the new Bucks arena to The North End that are replacing the land created by demolishing the freeway.
Why is Hammes Company moving to the city? Hammes said “I’m excited about being a part of the city… We have been hiring a number of people that work in Brookfield, but live in the city.” Hammes, who co-chaired Scott Walker‘s presidential campaign, noted “cities have come a long way and are doing a lot right.” Not necessarily an endorsement of a Democrat like Barrett, but a strong sign that business leaders of both parties are seeing cities nationwide as the place to be.
The project will need a zoning variance, and is expected to be heard before the City Plan Commission on November 7th, the Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee on November 21st and the full Common Council on November 22nd. From there, a happy mayor will quickly sign it into law and Hammes can break out the silver shovels.
Hammes acquired the 1.5-acre parcel in 2015 from BMO Harris Bank for $1 million. The triangular-shaped lot is bordered by E. Knapp St., N. Market. St. and N. Water St.
Armchair critics of Milwaukee architecture are going to have to rip up their playbook for this one. It’s quite different than any recent developments. Kovac described it as a “classic, strong masonry building.” Hammes himself is the driving force for the classical design. He notes he’s always been a student of American history and finds inspiration in the work of Thomas Jefferson. The building is being designed by DGP Architects of Virginia, who specialize in classical architecture, with Eppstein Uhen Architects serving as architect of record.
During his remarks Hammes offered that “the motor court will be a dynamic entrance.” Intended to serve as the building’s main entrance, the motor court will be partially wrapped by a Palladian colonnade that will connect the two buildings. It’s to be located in the middle of the development at the three-way intersection of N. Water. St. and E. Cherry St. The city will install a new stoplight at the intersection as part of the development.
The two-building complex will be built in phases. The first phase will contain 94,000 square-feet of space spread over five floors, with first-floor commercial space fronting N. Water St. and a portion of E. Knapp St. A 360-stall parking garage will be built on the eastern face of the building, facing N. Market St. and the MSOE Athletic Field and Parking Complex. Kovac noted Hammes employees on the top floor will have great views of the action on Viets Field, which sits atop MSOE’s two-story parking garage. Pedestrians walking along the narrow N. Market St. will be treated to a view of a parking garage on both sides. The phasing will also impact the colonnade, with only half of it being built at the start.
The second building, planned as another office building, will range from five to eight floors according to Hammes, with 90,000 to 100,000 square-feet, depending on market demand. Hammes anticipates building the second building within three years.
There Goes The Neighborhood
The suburbs-to-city migration is a hot trend. Hammes isn’t even the only Brookfield firm moving in the area. Advertising agency Bader Rutter will decamp from Brookfield for a site just north of the Hammes project in May 2017. The former Laacke & Joys downtown store is being overhauled into a new office building for the firm. While gentrification typically is derided as “hipsters” taking over neighborhoods, what’s the effect on a city when suburban office workers fill vacant land and empty buildings? Milwaukee is soon to find out.