Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

National Ave. Affordable Housing Moves Forward

But is it ugly? Committee debates design of Thirteen31 building at 13th and National.

By - Mar 17th, 2020 03:02 pm
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Thirteen31 rendering. Rendering by Arc-Int Architecture.

Thirteen31 rendering. Rendering by Arc-Int Architecture.

Developer Brandon Rule‘s planned apartment building for a city-owned site at S. 13th St. and W. National Ave. is moving forward. The building would include 89 apartments, 74 of which would be set aside at below-market rates for those making less than 60 percent of the area’s median income.

“It means a lot for me to develop in my backyard,” said Rule via phone to the Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee on Tuesday morning. The developer grew up at S. 26th St. and W. National Ave.

The committee signed off on selling two parcels to create the development site, but not before debating the design of Rule’s earlier project a few blocks to the east and different iterations of the proposed Thirteen31 project.

“For me at least, and for the architects and construction team, this is part two of a project we did at 704 W. National Ave.,” said the developer.

“I hope you get a different architect,” said Alderman Robert Bauman about SEVEN04 Place. “I’m all in favor of affordable housing, but affordable housing doesn’t translate to ugly.”

Rule said the architecture firm would be the same, Arc-Int Architecture.

Bauman was critical of a rendering for the new building included in the city’s Land Disposition Report. The L-shaped building was rendered with two different color palettes, one of which Bauman characterized as “yellow.”

“It was a private transaction,” said Department of City Development real estate specialist Matt Haessly of Rule’s first building. “In this case, they have to come to us and modified their plans since then.” But the Common Council did vote to subsidize the first project, which relied on a complex financing package described as “lasagna” by one city official.

Michael Emem, who is serving as the owner’s representative on the project, passed out a new rendering, depicting the building with a standardized palette.

“Yeah, that’s better,” said Bauman.

“We could have done more on 7th and National,” said area Alderman Jose G. Perez. “I’ve made it to very clear to DCD and Matt Haessly that we’re going to make the design on this building would be stepped up a level.”

“I’m confident with the architect and developer we can get there,” concluded Perez.

Design of projects financed with low-income housing tax credits is often an issue because the projects rely on razor-thin margins. That’s further complicated on infill sites like Rule is developing. With SEVEN04 Place a project partner told a city committee in 2017 that a substantial amount of funding was going “into the dirt” to remediate a brownfield.

The project, because it does not require a zoning change, is not subject to City Plan Commission review.

Rule is partnering with Lutheran Social Services on the development. “We have all of our financing commitments together for the most part,” said Rule. He hopes to close on the deal at the end of April.

The partners would acquire the brownfield sites at 1313 and 1329 W. National Ave. for $150,000. The city acquired the land via property tax foreclosure from Esperanza Unida. The groundbreaking for Rule’s SEVEN04 Place project was held in another building acquired by the city from Esperanza Unida, the Mercantile Lofts.

The Milwaukee Christian Center and KALS Trucking currently lease space at the site.

The estimated project budget is $17.8 million according to a city report. Rule secured low-income housing tax credits to support the project in 2019.

The committee voted 4-0 to approve the land sale. Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs was excused from the entire meeting.

The land sale will next go before the full Common Council.

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Related Legislation: File 191794

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