Michels Corp. Begins Work on River One
Piles being driven for $49 million first phase of Harbor District project on KK River.
Without a ceremonial toss of dirt for the cameras, construction has begun on the first phase of Michels Corp.‘s $100 million River One development plan.
Going up at the northwest corner of the intersection of S. 1st St. and W. Becher St., the $49 million first phase is planned to include an eight-story, office building, parking garage and riverwalk segment along the Kinnickinnic River. An apartment building, hotel and two more office buildings are also planned, along with a number of first-floor and riverwalk commercial spaces.
Michels, an infrastructure and utility contractor whose equipment can usually be spotted on other construction sites, appears to be doing much of the work in house so far. Gilbane Building Co., however, is serving as the project’s general contractor. A permit on file with the city indicates the only construction work on the site to date is for the 500-stall, underground parking garage that accompanies the first phase.
Michels, which is headquartered in rural Brownsville just outside of Fond du Lac, will anchor the office building with its new civil infrastructure division. Many of the positions in the 250-employee division will be in engineering or other highly-technical fields. “People that, quite frankly, are easier to recruit in Milwaukee than other places,” said Michels’ Chief Legal Officer David Stegeman in September. Firm vice president Tim Michels said in August that he hopes the firm will eventually employ 800 people at the site.
Architecture firm RINKA is leading the complex’s design, including the ever-expanding first office building. Originally planned at 130,000 square feet, RINKA project manager Ryan Pliska confirmed via email in December that the building is now approximately 30 percent larger, with 26,000-square-foot floor plates planned for much of the eight-story building.
The approximately six-acre site, a portion of which Michels acquired when it bought the foundation contractor business Gillen in 2002, has most recently been identified as the home of Horny Goat Brewing. The brewery closed in 2015, and a former city pumping station that was used as a restaurant was demolished for the Michels development.
The Common Council approved a $7.1 million tax-incremental financing district for the project’s first phase in December, but none of the funds will go towards the developer in the form of a cash incentive.
The Department of City Development had originally negotiated a $1 million cash grant to Michels in exchange for creating 250 jobs, but with that came the legislatively-triggered mandate that the entire project’s construction be subject to a 40 percent hiring requirement for unemployed or underemployed city residents and that 25 percent of the contracts by dollar value be assigned to city-certified, disadvantaged Small Business Enterprises. Michels preferred to forgo the grant.
The remaining $7.1 million TIF will pay for the city’s share of the new riverwalk segment ($3.4 million), environmental cleanup ($400,000), rebuilding W. Becher St. ($2.5 million) and city administrative and contingency costs ($750,000). Because Michels is only directly receiving funds for the riverwalk, only the riverwalk’s design and construction will be subject to the Residents Preference Program and SBE hiring requirements, defined in the agreement as a “best effort.” As a matter of practice, the city funds 70 percent of all riverwalk costs in exchange for round-the-clock public access.
The company has been involved in a number of Milwaukee-area projects including rebuilding the foundation to Milwaukee City Hall, building new wharf walls at the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District headquarters and constructing the foundation for the Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center. The firm has also been involved in virtually every major road project in the area.
A list of projects on the firm’s website contains a dizzying list of activities across the country, including light rail line construction in Seattle, pipeline construction in Texas and wind farm construction in Alaska.
River One, located at the northwest corner of Bay View, is one of many projects underway in the neighborhood. Just a few blocks to the east, New Land Enterprises has started construction on its 144-unit apartment building known as The Beacon.
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Read more about River One Development here