Michael Horne
Plenty of Horne

Mandel Group’s “Coolest Project” Ever

Mandel Group breaks ground on a 46-apartment, mixed-use development that includes an indoor climbing gym.

By - May 21st, 2015 11:11 am
A groundbreaking day for Mandel Group. Photo by Michael Horne.

A groundbreaking day for Mandel Group. Photo by Michael Horne.

In late 2013, Mandel Group Chief Operating Officer Bob Monnat got a call from real estate broker John Kuhn informing him that Kuhn had a client looking for 18,000 square feet of commercial space and that Mandel’s undeveloped property on the Milwaukee River at the southwest end of the North Avenue Bridge fit the bill. The client had a few stipulations regarding its build space, Monnat was told. A forty-five foot ceiling height would be one of them. And thus began what Monnat acknowledged as “the coolest project we have ever put together” in his two decades with the development firm.

But when he brought the unusual idea up to Chief Executive Officer Barry Mandel at a development meeting, Monnat recollected, “I never saw Barry speechless as long as when he was first told of the deal.”

Monnat made his remarks at a groundbreaking facility for Adventure Rock, the client with the demand for lofty ceiling clearances. It currently operates an indoor climbing gymnasium in Brookfield that has been wildly successful. Research showed that a significant percentage of members lived on the East Side, and the firm wanted a location near where all the cool kids lived. “We need to move into the city, where so many of our members are,” Monnat remembered the clients saying. The result will be Milwaukee’s first indoor climbing gymnasium, and Monnat expects it to be a landmark and an area-wide attraction. “Usually these are located in a dark warehouse in the back of an industrial park. Here, we will have windows, a view of the city.”

With the inclusion of 46 apartments in the mixed-use development, called Rivercrest Phase II, Mandel and its financial backers were able to put together the deal consummated today, silver shovels and all. The building is designed by Johnsen Schmaling Architects.

Mayor Tom Barrett made some remarks about the new development, and seemed excited to welcome a business that “has a lots of ups and downs,” as he put it. Barrett put the location in its geographic perspective. This is a key property, he said.

The location is immediately east of the Pick ‘n’ Save located on the southeast corner of E. North Ave. and N. Humboldt Ave., and is at the foot of the North Avenue Bridge. It is also the northern terminus of N. Commerce St., extended with the redevelopment of the Beerline B neighborhood during the late 1990’s. The site had lain vacant for decades; it had long been a railroad switching yard and an altogether dismal place.

But UWM “had the foresight to cross the river” when it built a dormitory across E. North Ave. some years ago. “As we fill this property in, we are on a straight shot downtown,” with the riverwalk and numerous other connections and reconnections, like the Holton Marsupial Bridge. No more vacant lots, no more post-industrial scenery. All new, and redeveloped — much during the Barrett administration, which began in 2004.

“People believe in this city, and we are witnessing it in real time in Milwaukee, ” Barrett said.

The mayor contended the renaissance comes from the two groups that are driving the population boom here.

“The young who climb the walls,” he said.

“And the young at heart who think they can.”

A giant excavator was on site, and had scraped up a ceremonial pile of dirt for the dignitaries to move around for the cameras, but Monnat elected to not make a show of the giant machine’s prowess, so it sat as an idle backdrop to the ceremonies. Bad experience in the past, you know.

This is the first of five groundbreakings planned by the Mandel Group in the City of Milwaukee this year, with construction budgets totaling $200 million, said Barry Mandel.

Renderings and Site Plans

Groundbreaking Event

6 thoughts on “Plenty of Horne: Mandel Group’s “Coolest Project” Ever”

  1. PMD says:

    I sure wish I could spend $2,000 a month on an apartment with a rock climbing wall. My life would be complete.

  2. Bill says:

    Doesnt Turner Hall have a rock climbing gym?
    (I say that as a question, but I actually took a climbing class there.)

  3. Tim says:

    I didn’t know a person’s housing defined their life’s completeness… now I know, thanks PMD.

  4. PMD says:

    Will you be living at Adventure Rock Tim?

  5. Andy says:

    re: Bill, “Doesn’t Turner Hall have a rock climbing gym?”

    Yes! It’s located on the ground floor (basement) level, below the ballroom, with it’s own dedicated and rather inconspicuous entrance to the left of the main entrance.

    Until the completion of this project it’s the only indoor gym in the city, with Adventure Rock’s original Pewaukee (i think?) location being the only other indoor gym in the metro area. Before being (unfortunately) forced to move away, I spent probably a minimum of three days a week at the gym at Turner’s. It’s a relatively hidden gem that will always hold a special place in my heart – Kim, the guy that runs (or at least used to when I still lived in the area), is a really solid dude, and I’d encourage anyone interested in climbing to give Turner’s a shot. There’s something uniquely indie about that place that makes it so special, and the employees and regulars easily become friends, with Kim often taking groups of people from the gym on hiking and climbing trips to Devil’s Lake throughout the year.

    I’m worried that this new A-Rock location will put a lot of financial strain on Turner’s, even though they have a dedicated group of folks that frequent that location. The existing A-Rock is widely considered by other area climbers as the superior gym – it’s larger, has higher walls, and is more modern than Turner’s (although I haven’t been to Turner’s in since moving away in early 2013, so I don’t know if they’ve expanded since then). The new A-Rock will be even bigger than the current suburban location, and I’m certain that it’ll be extremely crowded as climbing continues to gain popularity, especially given that (at least back in 2013 and before) Turner’s indoor gym was only open for 5-hours a day, 5 days a week because it’s also used for classes and other recreational activities throughout the week; it’s also used as a small gymnastics and fencing facility IIRC.

    Even given the inevitable strain this new location will put on Turners,I can only view the construction of another local gym as a good thing, as the market has thus far been vastly under-served.

  6. Tim says:

    PMD, nope… I already live nearby… why do you ask?

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