City’s First Mass Timber Building Planned
New Land 's environmentally-friendly office building planned for Downtown.
It might look like a normal office building from the renderings, but New Land Enterprises is prepared to do something entirely new in Milwaukee.
The real estate development firm is planning to build a seven-story office building with wood instead of steel or concrete. The emerging building material, known as mass timber, is a fire-resistant, engineered wood product.
The building is planned for the lot at 834 N. Plankinton Ave. along the Milwaukee River. The site in the Westown neighborhood was long the home of Renaissance Book Shop before the city condemned the structure in 2015. A New Land affiliate bought the site in 2016 and hired Recyclean to deconstruct the crumbling building.
The seven-story building, designed by Korb + Associates Architects, would be the tallest such structure in Wisconsin. The engineered material is capable of going much higher than conventional wood construction methods because it chars in a fire.
“We like to be the first,” New Land director Tim Gokhman said about the plans in a phone interview Friday afternoon, before ticking off a list of Milwaukee-first investments the firm has made including new apartments in the Historic Third Ward, high-rise housing on N. Farwell Ave. and the use of light-gauge steel. The firm has also recently developed a series of smaller apartments that more efficiently create space by using smaller appliances and a bed that converts into a dining room table.
Tenants of the building will benefit from a substantial amount of natural light and an interior rich in exposed lumber. They’ll also be in a building with a reduced environmental impact compared to a conventionally-built building.
The final timber product has yet to be selected. “We are talking to a couple different suppliers,” Gokhman says. Following a final vendor selection and a pre-leasing period, the firm will commence construction.
The process of construction is not like that for a normal steel or concrete high rise. “The speed of construction is completely different. It’s a completely different way of building” says Gokhman. The developer noted that the reduced building weight will remove the need for expensive footings at the base of the foundation.
Given the infeasibility of constructing a substantial number of parking spaces on the site, the firm opted to build office space over housing. Gokhman notes that office tenants are more willing to use on-site parking paired with nearby garages and lots compared to residents who seek on-site, secured parking.
The building will need a variance from the building code, but New Land doesn’t view that as a hurdle. “In our mind it’s a pretty straightforward process because it’s been done elsewhere,” says Gokhman.
When complete, the project will join a growing number of mass timber buildings in the United States. A seven-story mass timber structure was recently completed in Minneapolis. The developer’s website for the building bills it as “all the charm of an old brick & timber building, with none of the downsides.” A 12-story mass timber building is expected to break ground in Portland, Oregon this year. The Portland building will be the city’s second such structure.
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