“The Blue” Gets $30 Million Upgrade
See the transformation of under-used office building on now booming W. Wisconsin Ave.
Just one year ago if you threw a rock at the corner of N. Old World Third St. and W. Wisconsin Ave. you were most likely to hit vacant commercial space. Whichever direction you faced, you were staring at underutilized or empty buildings.
That’s all changing.
While the high-profile transformations of the Shops of Grand Avenue mall and Grand Warner Theatre have received much attention, an out-of-state company has quietly set about transforming the largest office building in Westown. A building that today has a 64 percent vacancy rate.
New York-based Time Equities Inc. acquired the 14-story, 578,000-square-foot building at 310 W. Wisconsin Ave. in December 2017 for $19.5 million and set about formalizing a plan to reinvigorate the aging property. The purchase is part of a $30 million investment that includes new lighting, rehabbing 15 elevators and 52 bathrooms, rebuilding the 14-story atrium and creating a host of modern tenant amenities including a coworking space, fitness center and shared conference rooms.
Along with the redevelopment comes a new brand and name. Gone is the short-lived name, The Blue, in favor of 310W. The new name reflects the building’s address at 310 W. Wisconsin Ave. And a new logo reflects the design of the 1983 building, which features a number of sold lines and bold cobalt blue color.
“Part of the innovating and engaging modern office experience we are working to create at 310W includes enriching the property throughout,” said Time Equities CEO Francis Greenburger at a press conference Monday morning. The first step, said Greenburger, is the installation of a large sculpture, known as “Tango Dancers,” by artist Red Grooms as part of Sculpture Milwaukee. “We believe 310W will be a catalyst for future growth in Milwaukee,” said Greenburger. The real estate veteran said he expects the building’s large plaza to encourage more activity in the heart of Downtown.
“Quite honestly you could not have picked a better time to be part of the renaissance that is happening in the heart of the city,” said Mayor Tom Barrett. The mayor said a two-day charette to envision a vibrant future for W. Wisconsin Ave. held almost 10 years ago is paying big dividends. He praised the work private developers are doing as well as organizations like NEWaukee, which hosts a popular night market on the street. “Right now what I think you’re seeing is a convergence of major players that understand the importance of what we’re trying to do in this city,” said Barrett.
Time Equities drew praise from Westown Association’s executive director Stacie Callies and Milwaukee Downtown’s Beth Weirick as well. “The transformation of this building is essential to the street and entire neighborhood,” said Callies.
“We all know having a healthy heart is essential for having a strong city, region and state,” said Weirick. The downtown booster also thanked Time for investing in a building that’s close to her heart. Weirick’s late husband, Joe, managed the building for years.
The Leasing Plan
The building is really two towers with a 14-story atrium connecting the towers via four different bridges and a large mezzanine level. And with that comes challenges and opportunities.
Transwestern executive vice president Marianne Burish, who is leading the building’s leasing push, said the building is suited for tenants looking for space ranging in size from 1,500 to 150,000 square feet. To that end, Transwestern and Time Equities have stripped the entire sixth floor to the bones to demonstrate four different ceiling options and show off the 30,000-square-foot floor plates in the building’s western tower. They’ve also installed a temporary, McDonalds-style bin full of balls for kids of all ages to help entertain visitors, brokers and potential tenants in advance of an important broker showcase Monday evening.
But it’s a 14th-floor space in the eastern tower that shows what the building could really become. A spec office has been constructed to illustrate what future tenant spaces could look like. “Most people need to see things to understand them,” said Burish. What visitors will find is a wide open floor plan that takes full advantage of the towering atrium to bring in lots of natural light, impressive skyline views and a very modern, clean design. Before even entering the space, Burish is able to start selling the vision. Contrasting the new glass doors with painted, solid wood doors on the other side of the floor, Burish stated: “This was a nice entry for your father’s law firm. No one wants that anymore.”
But what’s going to separate 310W from the host of other new buildings competing for tenants? “We think it’s the ability to deliver a Class A experience at a Class B price,” said Burish.
The building, designed by Voy Madeyski for the firm of Perkins and Will, was originally known as the Henry Reuss Federal Plaza and a had a number of government tenants. But that changed after the 9/11 attack and subsequent focus on security. The building does not comply with new federal security standards. Today only a handful of government tenants remain, said Burish, including offices for the National Labor Relations Board and Social Security Administration.
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