Jeramey Jannene

The Pizza Man Fallout

By - Jan 26th, 2010 11:32 pm

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.

Redevelopment Options

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.

One of those options is a building similar to the one that now houses Brueggers, Subway, and Ian’s Pizza (Prospect and North).  A one-story, all retail building. It could contain parking, and likely would as a result of zoning (the property is zoned LB2). This certainly isn’t the desired scenario, as it would likely mean surface parking and a reduction in housing in the area. Nor is the parking a set-in-stone inclusion, as a zoning variance could be obtained.

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.

Potential Work-Arounds

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.

Categories: Real Estate

15 thoughts on “The Pizza Man Fallout”

  1. Jeff Jordan says:

    Jeramey, Of course, you suspect I will object to a proposal for North Avenue that includes a suggestion there be University owned residential housing, but in this case I might agree, for two reasons.
    First depending on the headcount, they probably would be replacing what has traditionally been student housing to begin with.
    Second if the building fit the space and wasn’t built by NLE, it might be an asset to the area just like Kennilworth. The additional advantage would be that if there was a zoning issue, the city would roll over as it always does for the University.

    The negatives should be obvious. Spreading University Housing so far from the campus. Granted, It would be just another stop on the student shuttle vans or more traffic on the bike lanes that may or may not be built.

    It’s always interesting to me how it’s fine to do this on North Avenue but not on Capital and certainly not in Shorewood.

    The biggest mistake has to be the drive through restaurant regardless of the flag. A building similar to the single story strip on Prospect and North even with rear of the store parking, (which they won’t do regardless of Greenstreet’s pleas) is cheesy imitation of suburban drive ups. The blemish on Oakland and Brady should be enough to convince you.

    A bigger question for the immediate future is, where is Pizza King going to go? Downer Street Beckons!

  2. alba says:

    I agree with the Downer Ave suggestion for Pizza, er MAN! How about the old Chancery space?

  3. Nick says:

    While I may not understand all the zoning/financing complexities that would lead to a parking requirement for the new building – I would like to point out a ‘newer’ building in the area that was constructed about 5 years ago without any off-street parking: The building that currently houses Sobelman’s Tall Grass Grill, Mayura, and Custom Tattoo located on the corner of Farwell and Irving, across from Koppa’s and Comet.

    I will concede that the building, once completed, was vacant for about two years before the first tenant moved in. But even when Patty Burger left, the vacancy was filled rather quickly by Sobelman’s.

    This building does not have any off-street parking and the location isn’t as pedestrian-dense as the former Pizza Man location yet they manage to pull it off. I think the argument could be made that financially, more retail/restaurant/office space in whatever ends up being built on the former Pizza Man site would bring in much more income per square foot than parking.

  4. Dave Reid says:

    @Nick To be clear I’m pretty sure Jeramey wasn’t saying he want parking there, just that all too often a developer and/or bank thinks there must be parking for a project to work especially if we’re going to get a mixed-use building.

  5. Nick says:

    @Dave Reid – right, I understand that clearly. I’m just trying to offer an alternative to Jeramey’s ‘doom-and-gloom’ that parking for that site is all but a foregone conclusion.

  6. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @Nick I misspoke (miss-wrote), a bank would require parking for any multi-story, mixed-use building. So if you wanted to put the same building back, a bank likely wouldn’t give you any money. If you wanted to put something akin to the Patty Burger or Ian’s Pizza buildings in, they would likely allow it.

    I’ve corrected the error in the article.

    So yes, I am doom and gloom in regards to getting a mixed-use building back on that site, but I do believe that you could get something without parking as long as it’s just one story.

  7. Rocky Marcoux told me last evening that he could support construction on that site that would not require parking.

  8. Dave Reid says:

    @Michael Great… Hopefully the banks won’t get in the way then.

  9. Kevin K says:

    Yeah, I was thinking if the place did great business before with no parking you could definitely make a case for a new structure being the same. It would be absurd to break up the North ave street wall with some hideous surface parking lot.

  10. chris says:

    I have come to the conclusion that mix-use buildings shouldn’t exist. Sooner or later, a resident isn’t going to like something about a nearby business and will complain to the licensing committee to close it down.

  11. Dave Reid says:

    @Chris I hear you on the complaints issue, I think of Bryant’s on the riverwalk and people complaining about the patio… That said mixed-use buildings are simply vital to an urban environment.

  12. Jesse Hagen says:

    Chris is right that businesses can’t expect things to be the same for an urban and suburban location. If an owner or manager don’t recognize a difference, they will not attract the business they expected or will alienate their resident neighbors. While this can be challenging, the rewards of an urban location can more than make up for that with increased business, better access to talent, and locations/character that are literally unavailable anywhere else.

  13. Kevin K says:

    Well someone intentionally set the Black and White Cafe on fire. Hopefully they’ll be able to catch those who committed this terrible crime and bring them to justice.

  14. Dave Reid says:

    Agreed. Leave the investigation to the pros guys.

  15. Dave Reid says:

    This is no place for unsubstantiated allegations to be tossed around so I’ve removed some comments.

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