Meet the New Grand Avenue
From dead mall to vibrant city center, see the plan for Grand Avenue Mall
Say goodbye to the Shops of Grand Avenue. The Kubala Washatko Architects UrbanLab, led by Chris Socha, unveiled a bold reimaging of the downtown mall this morning. The renderings, first shown during NEWaukee‘s YP Week, show a dramatic transformation of the entire mall. Gone is any resemblance to a traditional mall, replaced with open floor-plan offices and a dynamic, urban marketplace. The first floor of the historic Plankinton Arcade building is set to become a grocery store, the first in Westown. The western portion of the mall, built in the 1980s, would be transformed into a modern office building with an urban marketplace on the first floor filled with bars, restaurants and retail stalls.
In March we broke the news that the mall was set for a dramatic transformation, but what’s been proposed is certainly far more than most expected. The mall was acquired in December of last year by a partnership of The Aggero Group and Hempel Companies, who stated that they were ready to consider any idea to breathe new life into the mall. The proposed changes show just that, not a retread of the failed idea of a suburban mall in an urban location, but a broader vision of the mall as a mixed-use city center.
The design touches that have come to be expected from TKWA and Chris Socha are all visible in the renderings. Similar to the firm’s work on numerous Colectivo cafes, indoor-outdoor spaces are planned to create engaging places along W. Wisconsin Ave. The winding corridor of vendors envisioned certainly draws inspiration from the TKWA-designed Milwaukee Public Market. The architecture firm also proposes to activate the alley just east of Walgreens on W. Wisconsin Ave., a theme they introduced in their 2014 study of W. Wisconsin Ave.
During the presentation, Socha noted that their goal is to create a “food hub, not a food court.” Noting that the vision isn’t a suburban mall, but “a place you hang out after work” with food and drink from places regarded as the “best of Milwaukee.” Emphasizing the permeability between the street and the indoor marketplace, Socha noted that the interior spaces will have finishes that “feel like they’re for the exterior.”
In place of Applebees on W. Wisconsin Ave. is a proposed restaurant dubbed “The Kilbourn” after the neighborhood’s original settler Byron Kilbourn. The Kilbourn is proposed to flow into a large trellis that would be replace today’s atrium entrance, which Socha called a “glorified smoker’s vestibule” during the presentation. Renderings show the trellis being dynamically up lit at night, making the intersection of N. 3rd. St. and W. Wisconsin Ave. a vibrant node.
The mid-block entrance for the Plankinton Arcade building features a large reflective surface that borrows a page from Chicago’s Cloud Gate (“the bean”) by encouraging passersby to stop and snap a photo of themselves.
When does this all happen? It depends on when the first tenants can be found. As was announced by Tony Janowiec at a real estate conference last week, the Grand Avenue’s owners are already drawing interest from multiple grocers. A source close to the project also believes the new owners are so hot-to-trot on the idea that they might build much of it on spec.
When pushed for additional details during the program’s question and answer session, the development team noted that the next phase is to reach out to potential tenants and engage with area stakeholders. They anticipate common area improvements being the first thing the public will see, with those referenced in a question about what to expect in the next 18 months. According to the development team, the goal is to “know by the end of this year what the whole vision is going to look like.”
At the end of the day will we still call it the Grand Avenue Mall? Probably not, the owners aren’t committing to a new name (or names) today, but are staying that the end product “probably has a different name.”
Before & After
The Aggero Group and Hempel Cos.
Aggero clearly had one overriding interest when buying the mall, the parking garage. The 1,748-stall garage lines the southern face of the property running from N. Plankinton Ave. to nearly N. 3rd St. along W. Michigan St. Aggero acquired the mall and parking garage in separate transactions in December for a total of $24.5 million. This was done in partnership with Minneapolis-based Hempel Cos., led by Josh Krsnak. Aggero is led by Chuck Biller, Tony Janowiec and Doug Hoskin.
Janowiec and Hoskin are also principals at Interstate Parking, a parking management firm. Interstate manages the parking assets of The Aggero Group, including the mall’s garage. It’s strange to think a parking garage operator is going to be enlivening an urban environment, but numerous sources are praising the new owners.
Putting their money where there mouth is, Janowiec is relocating Interstate Parking’s offices to the mall from the nearby Empire Building. The renderings released today hint that the parking company is likely to end up with a really nice office space.
NEWaukee, the local events firm that is focused on the emerging field of social architecture, is heavily involved in plans for the facility’s future. The firm, which specializes in “place-based engagement strategies,” will work to activate the mall through events, program design and strategic partner alignment. They’re also a boots-on-the-ground stakeholder in the future of the mall having had their offices in the Plankinton Arcade since the firm’s inception.
The plans for the mall show a facility that’s ready to interact with NEWaukee Night Markets held on W. Wisconsin Ave. Each of the night markets draws thousands of people from all across the region, enlivening the street and injecting thousands of dollars into area businesses. Previously the mall was an after-thought for night market attendees, a fortress separated from the vibrant street. The plans show it as a dynamic space capable of adding to the energy the markets brings to the neighborhood.
The night market will return this year on the nights of June 15th, July 13th, August 17th and September 14th.