The Pizza Man Fallout
You’ve heard the sad story of Pizza Man, Cush, Black and White Cafe, and Grecian Delight, as well as the unfortunate residents that lost everything (fundraiser Thursday night). You’ve probably heard by now that there are some indications that the fire was started as an act of arson. What you probably haven’t given much thought to yet is what will occupy that iconic corner.
The building that housed Pizza Man was a unique mixed-use building. It housed four retail stalls and ten residential units without any parking. It’s hard to imagine a new building being built with that ratio of residential units to retail stalls today, typically buildings today often contain a larger number of residential units. Also, as listening to any debate about any housing proposal in Milwaukee would tell you, buildings today don’t get built in Milwaukee without parking.
So what will replace Pizza Man? Unfortunately, all indications seem to point to something not as dense as the building that was previously there. This is a shame for a lot of reasons, but most importantly because it’s a setback for a neighborhood that’s improved rapidly in the past four years with the addition of Whole Foods (and offices above), Educator’s Credit Union, a small building housing three restaurants, the Kenilworth Apartments, Latitude Apartments (soon to be completed), the Downer Garage Redevelopment (in progress), and the Cambridge Commons (under construction). All of this development has happened on-top of the development of the new Columbia St. Mary’s hospital at the east end of the corridor. It’s a shame to lose a truly urban building in the middle of one of Milwaukee’s great urban neighborhoods.
The Money Problem
A bank will undoubtedly require parking as part of any mixed-use building, claiming that’s the only way to insure that the project will financially work. Ironically, the previous building, which had no non-street parking, was one of the few buildings on the East Side that every retail stall was almost constantly occupied in. While the potential lenders demand for parking is probably justified in numerous places across the Milwaukee region, it’s been proven that you don’t need parking to operate a business (or four) at the corner of Oakland and North.
There are a few easy and likely redevelopment scenarios for the iconic corner. A lot of the options are readily visible around North Avenue already.
Another possible option is the construction of a bank branch similar to the new Educator’s Credit Union (Prospect and Ivanhoe). A two-story design that encompasses a first-floor drive-thru that is completely covered. This type of development isn’t perfect, but gives a slightly more urban feel than a surface parking at one end of the development.
A long-shot option is the construction of a project similar to Latitude Apartments with first-floor parking replacing any retail. This is unlikely because of zoning, and the traffic snarls curb cuts would cause at that busy intersection
Without a doubt, the worst case scenario for this site is the proposal for the development of a drive-thru restaurant, similar to the McDonald’s down the block.
While there are certainly other creative financing solutions out there, two options come to mind to rebuild the corner in a true urban fashion. The first of which is for UWM to claim the site for a small residence hall. The second is for RACM to finance the redevelopment of a mixed-use building. It seems that likely without some amount of public financing, a building with less density is extremely likely.