Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

117-Year-Old School Getting Transformed

Developer will turn MPS school he once attended into 40-unit apartment complex.

By - Nov 22nd, 2019 01:20 pm
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Phillis Wheatley School, 2442 N. 20th St. Photo from the City of Milwaukee.

Phillis Wheatley School, 2442 N. 20th St. Photo from the City of Milwaukee.

The City of Milwaukee is poised to contribute $1.05 million to the redevelopment of a vacant, 117-year-old Milwaukee Public Schools building.

Royal Capital Group won a city request for proposals to redevelop the former Phillis Wheatley School at 2442 N. 20th St. in the city’s Lindsay Heights neighborhood. The school, closed since 2005, was originally constructed in 1902 according to a city report.

The firm would redevelop the four-story building into 40 units of affordable housing and construct a new building on the southern portion of the 3.8-acre site that contains an additional 42 units. The units would have a mix of one, two and three-bedroom layouts.

The $19 million project, which has already secured low-income housing tax credits from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2021. Fiften of the units would be rented at market rates, with the remainder set aside at reduced rates for those making no more than 60 percent of the area’s median income.

Rents are expected to range from $370 to $1,125 per month.

“Like all of these affordable projects, there are layers and layers of financing,” said Department of City Development affordable housing specialist Maria Prioletta to the board of the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee (RACM).

The RACM board met Thursday to consider creating a developer-financed tax incremental financing district (TIF) that would effectively rebate $1.05 million in property taxes over a period of 20 years.

In addition to the housing tax credits and TIF funding, the project’s financing stack includes historic preservation tax credits, a private mortage and a contribution from the city’s federal allocation of HOME funds.

The school was the first that Royal Capital president Kevin Newell attended when his family moved to Milwaukee. “This is going to be one that’s special for us to redevelop and hold onto,” said Royal Capital development manager Terrell J. Walter.

A member of the RACM board also has first-hand experience with the school. “I used to live right across the street from here and my sister went to school here,” said Alderman Cavalier Johnson. “It would be nice to see some life breathed back into the neighborhood and back into the school.”

Many of the classrooms would be converted to approximately 1,100-square-foot, three-bedroom apartments said Walter. He said a third-party market study from Baker Tilly confirmed the demand in the area for apartments that large.

Additions to the school from the 1960s and 1970s contain a cafeteria, gym and additional classrooms.  Walter said a variety of uses are being explored for the space, including a fitness center, commercial kitchen and cafe.

“The way we’re evaluating it right now is partnering with a third party,” said Walter in response to a question from Johnson. The facilities could be open to the public.

The hardscaped lot at the north end of the site would be largely converted to grass. Walter said the firm considered creating a community garden with the space, but said the neighborhood has a number of organizations providing that kind of service already including Alice’s Garden and the Fondy Food Center.

“It’s a neighborhood that is really commited to healty lifestyles and sustainability,” said Prioletta. The city celebrated the neighborhood’s designation as its first “eco neighborhood” earlier this year.

The RACM board unanimously endorsed the district’s creation.

The proposal will next go before the Common Council for approval.

Because the project is receiving over $1 million in city funding, the developer will be required to have 40 percent of the construction work hours be performed by unemployed or underemployed city residents.

Royal Capital is working on a number of other Milwaukee projects, many of which involve city support. The firm’s $84.5 million redevelopment of the former Schuster’s Department Store on King Drive was before a council committee on Tuesday to secure a $15 million subsidy. Additionally, the firm developed affordable apartments above the new Good Hope Library on the city’s far northwest side. The apartment portion just opened, while the library will open later this year. A market-rate apartment building in Downtown connected via skywalk to Fiserv Forum is also about to open.

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