Is Barry Mandel the Michael Jordan of Development?
Barrett rhapsodizes over developer at groundbreaking of North End III. And Fresh Thyme owner adds praise of Mandel style.
For the third time in ten days the silver shovels were hauled out of the Mandel Group vault for a groundbreaking, this time for Phase III of The North End, a mixed-use development on the former site of the Pfister & Vogel tannery in Downtown.
“With Phase III, we now have a critical mass [of population density]. This was the hole in the doughnut Downtown,” Mandel Group President Barry Mandel told a group of 100 who assembled on the site Monday, October 13th, to witness the event. “Finally we weave together the urban fabric, create jobs and an ongoing tax base for the city.”
The “doughnut hole” was a blighted, undeveloped area between the Milwaukee River and N. Water St. north of Downtown. Development had taken place in every direction around the old tannery, but this largest downtown brownfield seemed immune to improvement. Mandel’s involvement began in 2001, he said, when then-Mayor John O. Norquist called and asked if he would like to buy the site.
The $53 million project includes $36 million of “extremely complex financing,” Mandel said, including $10.5 million in New Market Tax Credits from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Agency, whose CEO Wyman B. Winston was among those on the floral-festooned podium with Mandel.
Those credits will be used to help finance a Fresh Thyme grocery store on the property. Winston said the area qualifies as a “food desert,” with virtually no full service groceries in the immediate area, particularly to the west.
A city Tax Incremental Financing district provided $8 million in public and private infrastructure for the project, including one-third of the $5.5 million environmental remediation tab and a riverwalk segment that will be a quarter mile long when completed.
The six-story building on the northwest corner of N. Water and E. Pleasant streets will have 168 apartments, including some moderately priced units that will be “seamlessly” woven into the development, Mandel said.
Currently, the firm has $120 million in projects under construction, he said, adding that “three to five deals are imminent over the next five to seven months, worth another $120 million.”
The new project will bring the North End complex to about 400 apartments and 45,000 square feet of retail space. Phase III will be ready for occupancy at the end of 2015. Upon complete build-out, the North End complex will have 675 homes and represent $175 million in private investment in an area that few had great hopes for.
Also at the event, Mandel announced that Richard “Dick” Lincoln, who served as master of ceremonies, would be retiring in December.
“If I had my way, Dick would retire on December 31st at 11:59 and 59 seconds, P.M.,” Mandel joked.
Lincoln gave the audience an idea of the demographics of the completed portions of the North End. He said the development, and others downtown, draw “young, educated, gainfully employed” professionals. Three-quarters of the residents are living Downtown for the first time. Many are reverse commuters traveling to jobs at Kohl’s, he said. Kohl’s, based in Menomonee Falls, has deferred plans to build a new campus in that remote area, yet also turned down city attempts to lure the fashion firm to Downtown, where it films its catalogues and advertisements.
Mayor Tom Barrett took the stand to commend Mandel on his work. Barrett likes little anecdotes to pepper his speeches, and he said that Mandel reminded him of Michael Jordan.
“Did Michael Jordan ever tire of winning championships?” the Mayor asked, answering his own question in the negative. “For most people the North End would be a career-crowning accomplishment,” he said.
But not for our Barry! “Barry Mandel is the Michael Jordan of Milwaukee development.”
Now fully warmed up, the mayor also cited the proximity to both Downtown and the pastoral river. “People have an almost spiritual attachment to the river,” he said. “Even in the urban center you can experience the best of urban life and the wildlife and pristine areas” upstream, such as the Greenway Gateway now under construction on the west bank of the Milwaukee River just upstream from the North End project site.
Thanks to the recent pace of development here, Marcoux added, Milwaukee is the only Northern Tier city to show positive growth. “We are a city on the move in a way no other Northern Tier city can claim. “We have a 20,000 population downtown,” he said. Many of these people are “younger millennials who are waiting for the streetcar.”
While some private developers have been known to grumble about Marcoux and the city’s leadership, he declared the city’s development success is partly due to a good working environment between developers and the city, calling the relationship “effective and efficient teamwork. The development community should be able to expect that from the city,” he added.
Photos from the Groundbreaking
Grocery CEO Invites Public Input on New Store
Among the attendees at the North End Phase III groundbreaking was Chris Sherrell, the President / CEO of Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, a growing chain that believes “you shouldn’t have to give away the farm to feed your body nutritious food.”
The firm has 10 stores soon to open, with another 16 on the books and contracts for another 31 stores to come. “Six to eight” stores are planned for the Milwaukee market, he said, with a total of “ten to twelve” stores in the state.
Sherrell said with so many stores on the verge of opening, his staff wondered why he would bother going to a low-key event like a Milwaukee groundbreaking. Because the project captivated him, he said.
His stores have a “huge focus on produce,” Sherrell said, with 30 percent of the store space and 30 per cent of the sales being produce. His plan is to aid in creating “healthy lifestyles for the masses,” he said.
“It’s a new concept: value,” he noted. “It fits in perfectly with this project.” This is one of the few mixed-use developments he has been involved in, he said, and he is open to new ideas.
Sherrell offered a challenge to readers of Urban Milwaukee. “Tell me what you would like to see in the store,” he said. “There are some things we cannot change, but we welcome ideas about the store. For instance, would you like to see seating on the riverwalk?”
So here’s your chance to help plan Fresh Thyme. If you would care to take the challenge, add your comments here, and we will send them on. A grocery store design charrette might not be a bad idea.