Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

City’s First Mass Timber Building Tops Off

Walker's Point project quietly making use of new building material.

By - Dec 10th, 2019 04:16 pm
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Mass timber being hoisted to the top of Timber Lofts. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Mass timber being hoisted to the top of Timber Lofts. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The first Milwaukee building to use a new building material reached its maximum height today.

Developer Ann Pieper Eisenbrown was joined by members of Engberg Anderson Architects and Catalyst Construction to watch the highest panel of cross-laminated timber (CLT), a form of engineered lumber, be lifted atop the Timber Lofts at 331 S. 3rd St.

CLT is one of a handful of different lumber technologies that make up the emerging field of mass timber construction. Mass timber is an engineered product made by combining layers of lumber into a stronger material.

Because it mimics many of the properties of old-growth lumber, mass timber is more desirable than conventional wood construction. It only chars (rather than burning through) in a fire, reduces on-site construction time and offers enhanced strength.

The engineered material offers substantial environmental benefits over steel or concrete. Because it weighs less, it also can reduce the size of a building’s foundation allowing faster construction. It also offers an aesthetic benefit that developers are betting will generate a competitive advantage.

The lumber product was shipped to Milwaukee from vendor KLH in Austria, where a more robust market exists for CLT and other mass timber products. But Milwaukee has two other mass timber projects in the pipeline, including one that is poised to be the tallest building constructed from the material in the Western Hemisphere. All of the projects are planned to be built by Catalyst.

CLT is being used for the floors in the Timber Lofts and a handful of vertical components. “There is a simplicity to this that is pretty amazing,” said Engberg partner Mark Ernst as the panel was lifted into place.

The $14.6 million, 60-unit project involves combining the 128-year-old, five-story Louis Bass Building with a new four-story addition. Ernst said the new use of mass timber allows compatibility between the historic building, with its exposed, old-growth wood ceilings, and the new building and exposed CLT ceilings.

The project relies on just over $2 million in historic preservation tax credits. And with that comes a host of requirements from credit administrators at the National Park Service, including making the new addition shorter than the historic building to preserve visibility of the Louis Bass ghost sign and windows that match the building’s period of significance.

It’s a process not unfamiliar to Ernst or Pieper Eisenbrown. The developer, a member of the Historic Preservation Commission, has redeveloped historic buildings on both sides of Timber Lofts as well as projects in the Historic Third Ward. The architect has worked on a number of historic projects across town, including the One MKE Plaza project in Lindsay Heights.

A building attached to the Louis Bass structure, now known as the Serif Apartments after Pieper Eisenbrown’s redevelopment, opened to residents in 2018. Both structures were originally built by Pabst Brewing Company as speculative warehouse properties. Pieper Eisenbrown also redeveloped a former warehouse immediately east of the Louis Bass building, now known as 234 Florida, into office space almost a decade earlier.

The stretch of W. Florida St. from S. 2nd St. to S. 6th St. was a sleepy side street as recently as 2009, a far cry from 100 years ago when it was part of Milwaukee’s industrial heart. But largely thanks to Pieper Eisenbrown, it’s now become a hot spot.

In addition to Serif and 234 Floridathe Brix apartments and the Iron Horse Hotel are to the building’s west with The Yards to its north and The Quin to its east. Coakley Brothers renovated its complex, including adding a signature piece of public art, on the south side of the street over the past two years.

Pieper Eisenbrown has found a host of tenants for her projects. The Serif is over 91 percent full, including Strike Bridal Bar, which just opened in the first-floor commercial space. Milwaukee Boot Co. and dress shop Gigi MKE have opened in the first floor of 234 Florida, joining Tailord Salon. The office space above is over 90 percent leased. “We have nothing [left to lease], which is a great problem to have,” said the developer.

The first units at Timber Lofts are expected to be available June 1st. Construction on the project started this summer.

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