Dave Reid

UWM’s Expansion Must Include Former Columbia Hospital Site

By - Nov 18th, 2009 11:47 am
Columbia Hospital

Columbia Hospital

Although, we have been critical of UWM’s efforts to expand in Wauwatosa, we have always believed that UWM’s growth is critical to Milwaukee. Specifically, the School of Freshwater Sciences, the School of Public Health, and an expanded research program in the Engineering School are all desirable goals that collectively can help UWM and Milwaukee grow. But beyond these initiatives UWM simply needs more space for its students to live on campus, or at a minimum in UWM-managed housing. Over the past few years UWM has been built two residence halls, Riverview and Kenilworth, and is nearing completion of a third, Cambridge Commons, but still has a need for thousands of more beds, as UWM turns away numerous potential students from university housing, due to a lack of on campus housing, every year.

To meet this need and potentially house some or part of these initiatives UWM’s acquisition of the former Columbia Hospital site is without a doubt a key piece of the expansion puzzle. It is likely that East Side residents will find this distressing and likely oppose any effort by UWM to purchase and develop this site, but expanding on this site makes the most sense for UWM, East Side residents, and the City of Milwaukee.

This site would provide space for the thousands of additional beds that UWM desperately needs, benefit students, alleviate pressures on the neighborhood, and help Milwaukee to thrive. Students living on campus is good for students because they generally receive higher GPA’s, and often graduate in a shorter period of time. Students that live under UWM’s managed housing have more constraints and rules regarding their behavior which should be of benefit to neighbors concerned about student behavior. Another issue that faces East Side residents is a real or perceived lack of parking brought on by commuter students parking on city streets. This issue would be alleviated if UWM could purchase the Columbia Hospital site as it includes a parking garage that would provide students and staff additional parking. Finally, a growing UWM moves Milwaukee forward because it will help to create the critical mass of talent, that is key to growth in today’s economy.

What are the alternatives? Now that private development plans have fallen through it is possible that this site might sit vacant for years, or worse yet being demolished for a surface parking lot. Hopefully neither of these alternatives will play out and UWM will be able to move forward on plans to acquire the former Columbia Hospital.

Categories: Real Estate

24 thoughts on “UWM’s Expansion Must Include Former Columbia Hospital Site”

  1. Mike Poe says:

    Are you proposing UWM renovate the current building or demolish and build new, but leave the garage?

    I agree aquiring this land would be great for the school whether it is for more residences or a new building for one of the departments. (Hopefully Engineeering)

  2. Dave Reid says:

    @Mike Well this site has multiple structures, so I’m sure some would be saved, and retrofitted, while others might be demolished. Really, up to UWM but I think they could be repurposed. Further, it seems to me the garage is something UWM could utilize that would alleviate some of the issues on the East Side.

  3. Matthew says:

    UWM did a study a few years ago regarding the feasibility of CSM and all of their ideas involved reusing large portions of the buildings on the site although selective demolition and new construction would have to occur to maximize usage of the site.

  4. Jeff Jordan says:

    If you’ve been attending Masterplan presentations, you’ve heard the faculty pleading with the planners to consider the Columbia site for office, classroom and research space. The school of public health and others have been very vocal about their desire to locate in that building.
    Dorm space in this building is a huge sticking point with the neighbors in Cambridge Woods and Mariners for good reason. Anyone who believes that the students in Sanford aren’t a problem with the neighbors hasn’t been in the area on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, as student residents migrate from the dorm to Oakland Avenue and to near campus neighborhood gatherings. Actually when they leave they are probably just fine. It’s when they return from their night of revelry that things get out of hand. Multiplying this effect by putting dorms in Columbia is not going to help the problem or improve relations with the neighbors.
    Most Universities value and work to provide a curriculum with a interdisciplinary approach. Close proximity and good communications enrich and enable that goal. UWM should buy and use Columbia for their growth plan, but not house students there. There are reasonable alternatives for housing students. The Neighobrhood Associations have presented and supported these alternatives and will continue to work toward the goal of adequate student housing.

  5. Dave Reid says:

    @Jeff Yeah, I’ve heard a bit about the School of Public Health wanting to be there and I’m ok with that as well, seems to make a lot of sense. As far as the dorms, I know we won’t agree on this one and I hope that’s ok, but I really do believe more housing there is needed. UWM must build more housing and for a college experience it is good to be on campus. Certainly there are and will be issues, but I believe UWM needs to be able to grow its student population for the long term good of the entire city.

  6. Nick Aster says:

    I agree that this site is critical for UWM, but what’s the story with Hartford Ave School? It’s a huge plot of land smack in the middle of UWM that seems like it too could be re-purposed as a central campus gathering spot. Anyone thinking about moving the school and using it for UWM?

  7. EWO says:

    I really dont understand why the current master plan is not centered around using this site. It seems like the perfect opportunity for UWM to grow.

  8. Joe Klein says:

    @Dave Reid Your showing the difference between being a blogger and being a reporter. Open your mind and investigate why the neighborhood groups have issues with dorms. Go for a ride with Jeff Jordon, Myself and Oscar Perez on a Friday or Saturday night and experience first hand what a high density of students does for the Eastside.

    Join us in supporting the use of the Columbia Campus for classroom and research space. I think most of us can all agree with you that downtown is a great place for both future dorms and the engineer school; park your ego and listen to the people who live here. Open your mind and stop categorizing everyone who disagrees with you as a NIMBY. The concentration of student housing needs to be in a place where nearby duplexes can’t be easily turned into underage speakeasies. That means spacial separation from the Eastside. As Bob Bauman said, downtown will happily take them.

  9. John says:

    @Joe Klein. Get over yourself. You live next to a huge college campus, what exactly are you expecting? UWM students shouldn’t be quatered in other parts of the city just to appease some home owners. In order for UWM to grow and be taken seriously it needs to expand. The best palce to expand would be on it’s campus. The columbia complex is the most logical area to expand for classrooms and dorms. If you don’t like living next to a college campus then there is a simple solution, move. It’s like the only thing that Milwaukeeans know how to do is complain. Then you wonder why so many college graduates leave.

    People like Joe are the reason why UWM has an uphill battle trying to better itself. They will always cite reasons to not do something instead of thinking of the bigger picture. Why wouldn’t you want the students to be as close as possible to their campus. Do you know that there is hardly any sense of unity at UWM? And it’s mainly because its a commuter school. Wouldn’t the solution to that be to have more student housing in the immeadiate area next to the school?

    Why move dorms and a engineering school downtown (miles away from the main campus) when there is space right next door? It doesn’t make any sense.

  10. Dave Reid says:

    @Joe I like to think that we’re more like the penny press, thank you much.

    Classroom and research space is great, but UWM must grow, and needs the beds to do it. UWM is a key part of Milwaukee’s future, we need more college students, I know this is scary to some, but Milwaukee needs to grow its talent base and UWM is how to do it.

    I’m happy to have more students downtown as well, in fact students from MSOE, Marquette, and yes UWM live in the area, but why make it more difficult to go to college for thousands of students, when there is a great on campus opportunity? This will likely hurt GPAs, drop out rates, and simply the college experience. Of course UWM will need to build more resident halls in the neighborhoods, just need the beds, but again why not use the opportunity on campus when they can? It just make sense.

  11. Jeff Jordan says:

    I love the dialog here. Joe and John get to the bottom of a huge issue that no one seems to want to address. Are we going to sit by and watch a great traditional neighborhood transition into a largely transit student area with non-owner occupied housing.
    This transition is happening, John. People are moving out because of the noise, chaos and problems inherent with students who are learning to live without parental supervision and having their “wilding period” in this neighborhood. Joe is correct. People, whoweigh in on this issue and do not live in the neighborhood, such as citizens, school officials and government representatives, are not sufficiently aware of the problems this transition is making.
    This neighborhood is at a tipping point. If the long term neighbors in owner occupied properties give up and move the situation will be permanent. This is not good for the near campus neighbors, City of Milwaukee or UWM. As such, we all have to work together and deal with the problem today before it gets to be completely unmanageable.
    John I have to mention that Joe like many of the good people in the near campus neighborhood moved there long before the campus exploded into what it is today. Many of us have been working with the University to meet and discuss these problems for years. For us this is not moving next to the airport and than complaining about the noise.
    Alderman Kovac, The 3rdr District Neiborhood Association, Kerri Duce at The Office of Student Housing, Oscar Perez, UWM Community Affairs and many others are trying to tackle the issues that affect all parties. We are equally as concerned about how this dangerous behavior affects students as it does the neighborhood.

  12. Dave Reid says:

    @Jeff Say UWM isn’t allowed to add beds on campus but continues to add them around the campus, is that really better? Or is the argument really that UWM should not be adding any beds, or enrollment?

  13. Carol Thomas says:

    There is an issue the University and the neighborhood share: neither of us wants the neighborhood surrounding the University to become substandard student housing. We, who are long term residents, don’t want to see our housing values tank because of the noise and trash. The University, in its own interest, shouldn’t want the area to become substandard housing for students who focus more on parties and the alcohol and drugs that come with them. If parents see beer cans, cheap wine and vodka bottles scattered everywhere and smell the weed on the breeze, they will think twice about sending their student to this University. Any parent who hopes his/her child will graduate in 4 years would look elsewhere.

    I clean up trash – mostly beer cans – from my corner lot every Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning. What happens when no one is left in the neighborhood to do that? What happens to the University’s image when the whole area west of the campus looks like some blocks between Kenwood and Newberry? What happens when UWM looks like a party school?

  14. Joe Klein says:

    Healthy cites require stable, walkable, transit friendly neighborhoods like the Eastside was before the spike in enrollment. Milwaukee’s Eastside has great neighborhoods to live in, so is wanting to preserve that bad?. The blight on the Eastside has been primarily caused by the swelling student population. Some of the blight is indirect, as families move out properties are snatched up by land speculators wishing to make money off students. Years ago many of the student going to UWM where in-city working class, holding down a factory or service job while working on a degree. The massive growth in student population comes primarily from out-city students, many who have no respect for Milwaukee as a community and who care nothing for the neighborhoods they inhabit. They are a transient and problematic population.

    As you walk up streets, you can identify block where owner occupancy has dipped below 50%. These blocks are often visually trashy and the housing stock poorly maintained. Between the transient student and the absentee land speculators, what was once a fantastically vital neighborhood is being consumed as if by a cancer.

    When Sandburg was last expanded, the number of under age student flowing out of the dorms to neighborhood ‘party’ houses on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, increased. Burned once, twice shy, the neighbors who want to live on the Eastside remember the last dorm expansion and would prefer if alternatives are discussed.

    In my humble opinion, it would make a great community if the Eastside was full of graduate students, researchers, faculty, and staff. My ideal answer would be to have UWM house Freshmen and Sophomores Downtown, and work with MATC, MSOE, MIAD, and MU on shared facilities and possibly shared faculty for base core curriculum. That might even save money for all the institution and allow more to be spent on research (where the grants are) and graduate level facilities. This cooperative Downtown student shared campus, with a starter trolley system connecting the shared core and the main campuses of MATC, MSOE, MIAD, MU, and UWM; would also increase diversity, collaboration, and mobility between institutions.

    The worst of the problem for the neighborhood are Freshmen and Sophomores, which is why Santiago’s proposal of moving graduate students out to Wauwatosa seems like another spiteful insult against Milwaukee. Why should families, with equity in their properties and a long standing commitment to building a, safe, urban, and cosmopolitan Eastside, be insulted because they don’t want to role over and relinquish their community to student ghettoization? What does not make sense is pursuing policies that have a historical pattern of destroying the surrounding neighborhoods. What does not make sense is to expect the most politically active portion of the City of Milwaukee to role over and play dead.

  15. EWO says:

    I gather the situation is that UW, Milwaukee has grown in enrollment faster than in housing. There are many students who want to live on campus but cannot because there is no room. So naturally students look for near-campus housing. It sounds that off campus is where the trouble is happening. Wouldn’t housing students on campus solve this problem? How many keg parties happen inside the Sandburg dorms? UWM can police students in their dorms, but not on the city streets. Many reputable universities require all freshmen and sophomore students to live on campus. It seems to me the best solution to prevent wild behavior in the neighborhood is to provide enough housing on the campus, and further limit the market for students rentals.

    The alternative, which I personally experienced in Chicago is that the UIC campus police were a division of the state police. They paroled several blocks around UIC, they arrested students breaking the law and as a part of UIC held the students academically responsible.

    My understanding about the hospital site is that they have gone significantly over budget on North Avenue and are trying to recoup some of their losses by charge too much for the site next to UWM. UWM is not willing to overpay for the site so they are looking at alternatives.

  16. John says:

    @EWO You hit the nail right on the head. The reason why there are so many “party houses” is because students have to live off campus because there are not enough dorms. Building dorms on campus allows UWM to moniter the students. It’s not beneficial for students to have to live miles away from their school campus. It will kill their college experience.

    Jeff and Joe and other individuals who live around the UWM campus. I really do understand where you guys are coming from. And I agree that the behavior of the students must improve. But you have to understand that simply wanting students to live elsewhere won’t do any good for UWM or it’s students. I really mean it when I say that most students don’t feel like they are connected to UWM. There is hardly a college like experience at UWM. Notice how Marquette makes sure all of it’s students live in an area that is either on their campus, or extremely close. Because of this Marquette gets to monitor student behavior and more importantly, protect them.

    The Columbia Complex needs to be used for both classes and dorms. It’s the only way UWM can expand and have a more unified image. UWM doesn’t want to be a commuter school anymore, and it woud benefit Milwaukee if it wasn’t.

  17. Matthew says:

    It should be expected that the first few blocks around a college are going to be full of student residents(this phenomenon occurs near any college and every college no matter what type of college it is), so why are the neighborhood associations fighting against it. There are parts of the neighborhood which the neighborhood associations claim to represent as part of their neighborhood association because there is a single resident on the block who is in the association, yet a single person out of 50 is not representational of the block or neighborhood.

    There are a lot of features and amenities which are needed adjacent to the campus which are not compatible with what the neighborhood associations expect in their ideal neighborhood so they have never been allowed. Students and residents lead different lifestyles and until the neighborhood associations realize that they have different needs that should to be addressed there will continue to have conflicts between the two groups. Students are already treated as second class citizens in the neighborhood as the neighborhood associations marginalize them politically, students are unable to get Residential Parking Permits and have very little voice when compared to the associations with their landowner who look down on students as someone who needs to be controlled.

    The neighbors claim to be fighting for a stable neighborhood, yet student housing is a neighborhood stabilizer that can revitalize areas so why wouldn’t they embrace it if they remember that students will still need more amenities beyond just a small 10′ by 10′ dorm room, students need restaurants, bars, churches, and other student orientated amenities within walking distance of where they live, and the need housing within a short walk or ride of their classes. There are a few strategic areas around campus which are perfect for increased student density and which should be allowed to become mixed use with increased residential density because of their closeness to campus, and neighborhood amenities, as well as access to transit lines which provide additional mobility, and by increasing the density in those areas the neighborhood could reduce the demand for student housing in other parts of the neighborhood which would reduce the demand for flipping single family housing into rentals.

    The Residential Associations should figure out their priorities in the neighborhoods, and then figure out which parts of the neighborhoods could become increasingly student housing while also figuring out which area should be more owner orientated. Perhaps they could do their own neighborhood planning with the students so that students and owners are on the same page for how the neighborhood should develop. It makes no sense that right now the neighborhood associations are trying to control the direction the entire neighborhood is going while clearly some of the neighborhoods would be better represented by student associations which actually make up the majority of the residents.­

  18. Jeff Jordan says:

    Here are some additional facts to consider. The reason there are so many “house parties is because the kids can’t rink in the residence halls. Neighbors witness the migration every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night to and from the residence halls into the neighborhood bars and house parties.

    Mathew, I hear what your saying. I would like it if students and long term residents would live in harmony. Here’s the problem, as long as students behave in a way that they would not if they were living at home, there is going to be a problem. Please remember students do not become long term residents. They come to UWM and in a few years move on. The people that live and have lived here in owner occupied homes have an investment. They deal with a new crop of immature young people every year and they are tired of it.
    Why do they want junior, senior and grad students living in their neighborhood, because statistically and factually these people mature and don’t behave in the same inconsiderate manner. I will grant you that a few students make problems for all students the town and gown issues are magnified by the irresponsible behavior of a few. Establishing a zone where students live and anything goes is not productive. Insisting that students act responsible and act like adults does not mean college can’t be a enjoyable experience.

    The overriding problem is not students and neighbors not getting along. I suspect in the best of situations there would be petty issues. The problem is high risk alcohol consumption that causes behavior that wouldn’t occur if kids didn’t drink to much so often. I’m not talking about abstinence here. What I’m talking about is excessive drinking on a regular basis. What I’m taking about is the public urination, damage to property, date rape, fighting, and excessive noise.

    To those who would say to long term residents. This is a natural outcome of the growth of the University which is a great asset to the community and the region. We are never going to get young students to quit acting out like this. If you don’t like it move. I say, if you want to go to a party school, why don’t you enroll at Madison? Because your behavior is not making UWM a great asset to the City and the region. It’s drawing a criminal element into this community that prey’s on young people. It’s creating chaos in a traditional neighborhood that wants to stay healthy and vibrant, It’s feeding blight in the area because of unscrupulous landlords who profit off the turn over of students.

  19. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @Jeff, I have a real issue with only one thing you said. “Please remember students do not become long term residents.” I could line up student after student who still lives in the area after graduation, myself included (although I went to MSOE, but was frequently on UWM’s campus). A real issue with people staying in the steady supply of available, quality housing. That’s frequently found in the form of apartment buildings, not duplexes. After graduation it’s pretty clear that recently alumni want the urban, one or two bedroom unit as opposed to the large three-bedroom units they previously occupied because of cost.

    So that said, my take on the entire issue is that every student you put in a dorm is one less student in a house potentially run by a slumlord. Reduce the number of students in off-campus housing and you’ll reduce the number of slumlords (you’ll also shrink the geographic size of the campus). And while UWM is out there building dorm after dorm to transform from a commuter school into a legitimate, respected university, the neighborhoods should encourage development along Maryland Avenue. Maryland is a primary avenue for students at night, and simply increasing the student density there in the form of apartment buildings (similar to 1824 E Park Place) would make for a nice corridor that makes more homes available on the fringe of campus for owner-occupied housing. Students could also be suggested to walk down Maryland at night, as a way to encourage their safety in numbers, and to alleviate resident concerns about noise, garbage, etc.

    If you think the problem of party houses has gotten worse in the past few years, I can tell you as someone actively in “the scene”, you are wrong. DNS has cracked down on more than three unrelated residents living together, something that has reduced the number of potential party houses (there was a positive correlation there, allowed by slumlords out to make an easy buck). The school has added dorms, which has reduced the number of kids living in the neighborhood (which at the moment has simply led to more for rent signs, but will eventually yield more non-student residents). And last but not least, the neighborhood is better monitored now by people like Oscar Perez, who keep the size of parties down (but probably not the number).

    Furthermore, some old party houses are being developed now, including the Latitude Apartments on Kenilworth (one of the houses consistently hosted parties for years through various tenants).

    The long-term solution is to reconfigure the neighborhood to achieve a better balance. Students are going to go out and move around the neighborhood, giving them an urban corridor to walk through at night instead of a scattering of streets will alleviate a lot of pressure. Likewise, building more on-campus housing (and more UWM housing in general) will shrink the spread (sprawl) of the student population.

    Would you rather have 1,200 students living in one place that is guaranteed not to have keggers, or spread them out amongst 200+ homes?

  20. Dave Reid says:

    @Jeff To back up Jeramey’s claims I do know he hasn’t throw a kegger in ages.:)

  21. Jeff Jordan says:

    Jeramey, as usual you and Dave have great idea’s and I would agree with the potential of many of them. Our association, 3DNA have identified the major problems as High risk drinking and lack of enforcement of laws and regulations. We have formed committees to study both. If we were able to impact the occurrence of high risk or binge drinking even a little it would impact the quality of life in the near campus area profoundly. Severely impact the economic health of slum landlords in this area and you’ve moved the ball even further down the court. Make it clear that obnoxious behavior won’t be tolerated and the situation would become a bitch session about who or who didn’t shovel their snow and we could all live with that.
    What we do know i s that kids in the dorms are getting almost as many citations for underage drinking and disorderly conduct as the kids in the off campus housing. They aren’t getting those citations in the dorms. We are hoping that Chapter 17 will begin to curtail the worst behavior
    I’d be willing to discuss the corridor you mention because it make sense and there is momentum in that direction. And it’s true the latest Apartment addition to that neighborhood has been well received, proving that good landlords can be a huge part of the solution. I’ve learned that everything that happens is not necessarily planed. Water finds it’s own level.

  22. EWO says:


    Binge drinking is a result of restrictions on alcohol and a taboo on youth drinking. In many post-industrial countries where the legal drinking age is lower, there is much less alcoholism. Where beer is common and the people are well off, beer is not exciting and there is much less dangerous behavior. Unfortunately you cannot make it legal for a 18 year old to drink in America. You can however make beer common enough that for everyone of legal age there is no excitement. This in itself can curtail some desire by minors.

    P.S. Jeff could you send me some information about the 3DNA association? “ewomail@yahoo.com”

  23. Todd says:

    As a UWM alum and a father of a current UWM student, I will add my vote to expanding at the Columbia Hospital site and not all over the city and suburbs. The Wauwatosa idea is a very bad one. As for the neighborhood, the University is a great neighbor to have. It provides wonderful experiences for families and people of all ages and it enhances the quality of life in the neighborhood. If someone doesn’t want the excitement and energy that a college campus brings to the area, maybe they should move to the majority of neighborhoods that don’t have a college campus. If I lived in Milwaukee, the area around UWM would be the first place I would want to live and raise my family. Finally, I have two suggestions for solving the two big problems around the campus. As for the traffic, parking and congestion, add more transit options including light rail. With regard to the drinking and house parties, lower the drinking age so the students can drink legally in a supervised setting and teach responsible drinking.

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