Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

VA Redeveloping More of Soldiers Home

Issuing RFP to redevelop three more buildings at Civil War-era complex. Old Main redo starts in 2019.

By - Dec 10th, 2018 12:57 pm
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Photo by Matthew Gilson courtesy of The Milwaukee Soldiers Home.

Photo by Matthew Gilson.

Some of Milwaukee’s oldest buildings will see new life under a plan from the United States Department of Veteran Affairs. Originally designed as a self-contained village for recovering veterans of the Civil War, Milwaukee’s Soldiers Home has been in decline for decades, with many of the largest buildings vacant.

Last week the VA issued a request for proposals to redevelop three of the complex’s historic structures. Proposals are due January 7th for the redevelopment of the Ward Memorial Hall (1881), The Governor’s Mansion (1868) and the Chapel (1889). Unlike previous redevelopment opportunities, developers will not be required to provide housing for homeless veterans.

The 90-acre complex, located near Miller Park at the rear of the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center at 5000 W. National Ave., has been the subject of a large-scale preservation effort led by the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance and National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Our priority is to find interested developers who share our commitment to ensuring veterans are served by these buildings,” said Milwaukee Preservation Alliance board president Peter Zanghi in a statement.

The Save Soldiers Home effort has already found one key partner in Madison-based Alexander Company. The real estate firm, one of the country’s largest firms specializing in historic redevelopment, announced in 2016 that it would redevelop the complex’s central building, Old Main, and five other structures into 101 units of affordable housing for veterans.

Site Plan. Photo by Matthew Gilson courtesy of The Milwaukee Soldiers Home.

Site Plan for Alexander Co’s project. Photo by Matthew Gilson.

Construction on that project, a $40 million effort, is scheduled to begin in 2019. The company and Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee recently signed a lease with the VA for the buildings. “This was a complex and critical process,” said the firm’s president Joe Alexander. “It’s just the latest step in our collective effort to welcome veterans back into Old Main and other key buildings.” At a 2017 event, Alexander revealed that his grandfather, a World War II veteran, was one of the thousands of veterans who recuperated at the complex.

The Alexander project relies on a complex web of financing to support its redevelopment including historic preservation tax credits, low-income housing tax credits, federal HOME loan funds, philanthropic support, a partial developer fee donation and a grant from the city’s Housing Trust Fund

A $650,000 funding gap, intended to be closed through donations, still remains according to a press release from the preservation coalition.

The historic complex, originally a 400-acre village with its own post office and theater, was one of three built across the country. The National Historic Landmark status, bestowed upon the complex in 2013, applies to 41 buildings constructed from 1867 through the 1930s.

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