Jeramey Jannene
Friday Photos

New Life for Old Main

$44 million project will convert vacant Civil War complex to veterans' housing.

By - May 15th, 2020 06:37 pm
Old Main under scaffolding. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Old Main under scaffolding. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The redevelopment of Old Main, the signature building at the Civil War-era Soldiers’ Home complex on Milwaukee’s west side, is continuing despite the pandemic.

Built in 1867 to house returning soldiers after the Civil War, much of the complex, located behind the Milwaukee Veteran’s Administration Medical Center, has been vacant for decades. But come spring 2021, veterans will again reside in 101 apartments in the century-and-a-half-old complex.

The $44.5 million project, years in the making, is being led by the Madison-based Alexander Company. J.P. Cullen is leading the general contracting.

“Some impressive progress has been made, both inside and out,” said firm president Joe Alexander in a statement. “As to the exterior, window restoration continues, as does work on the roof, trim, and tuck pointing. Scaffolding is starting to come down in some areas and you can see the finished product. On the interior, installation of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing is in process. New housing units are being framed on the ground and first floors, in addition to restoring wood flooring, plaster walls, and wainscoting. Next steps include continuing work on the interior with drywall and finishes.”

Old Main will be home to 70 apartments available for veterans at below-market rates, with three duplexes, the former chaplain’s residence and former Soldiers’ Home headquarters also being converted to housing to bring the total to 101 units. Support services will be offered to the residents. The housing is targeted at those that are homeless or at risk for homelessness. Alexander will partner with the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee on managing the project.

Rehabilitated portions of Old Main are now visible, with refurbished windows and brickwork offer a glimpse at what the project will look like once finished.

“We remain optimistic that the rehabilitation efforts will continue to track for completion in the first quarter of 2021, and can’t wait to show the community what we’ve been working on in partnership with the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee,” said Alexander.

A ceremonial groundbreaking was held for project in September 2019 and drew a who’s who of participants that reflected the numerous project partners.

The project’s financing is as complicated as it comes, including two different sets of low-income housing tax credits (nine percent and four percent), state and federal historic preservation tax credits, $2.5 million from a fundraising campaign led by the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, $500,000 from the Home Depot Foundation, including $100,000 in gift cards, $200,000 from project general contractor J.P. Cullen, a military construction loan, $600,000 from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago, $375,000 from the city’s Housing Trust Fund, an approximately $1.5 million loan from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) and a $547,000 loan from the Milwaukee Economic Development Corporation.

Alexander project manager John Beck said at the groundbreaking that the project was the first of its kind in the Midwest to leverage both kinds of low-income housing tax credits and the first project in the nation to use both credit programs as part of the adaptive reuse of a historic building.

When it opens, veterans won’t find themselves in the exact same pastoral landscape as the complex was built in, but they will have some unique amenities. Many residents will have a view of Miller Park from their apartments, and all will have a short walk to the baseball stadium, direct access to the Hank Aaron State Trail (built atop a former rail line that bisected the complex) and a shuttle bus to connect them with the nearby VA hospital.

Old Main, designed by Edward Townsend Mix, was used as a long-term care center for veterans until 1989. The buildings being redeveloped will continue to be owned by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and leased to Alexander and HACM.

Want to know more about Soldiers’ Home? The Milwaukee Preservation Alliance launched an at-home learning resource about the complex this week.


Photos from Alexander Company


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