Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

City Funds Get First Approval for Journal Square Lofts

Affordable housing development is focused on non-traditional MATC students.

By - Jul 16th, 2020 04:56 pm
Journal Square Lofts. Rendering by Eppstein Uhen Architects.

Journal Square Lofts. Rendering by Eppstein Uhen Architects.

Developer Joshua Jeffers‘ plan to redevelop the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel complex into the Journal Square Lofts picked up another vote in support Thursday.

The board of the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee unanimously recommended amending a tax incremental financing district to provide $1 million to the project from incremental property tax revenue generated by the development.

The $54 million project includes $27.7 million to redevelop a 1962 addition to the complex into 77 apartments for the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC). The facility would have 189 beds for students and their families, with the college leasing all of the units and subleasing them to students.

“The more you start to understand the demographics of the MATC student population the more you can appreciate the role that housing plays for the students,” he said, noting that the student body is often older than students at other colleges and there are a number of single parents with non-traditional housing needs. He said his firm completed a market study that found an immediate demand for 220 beds.

The city funds would be used for facade restoration and affordable housing, according to a city report. A total of 27 units, all studios, would be set aside for students making less than 60 percent of the area median income. J. Jeffers & Co. would privately borrow the funds up-front and be repaid over a period of ten years, plus 4.5 percent interest, through incremental property tax revenue generated by the development. Financing for the project also relies on historic preservation tax credits and private financing.

One part of the complex, the cavernous, multi-story space that once housed the printing presses, wouldn’t be redeveloped in the first phase. “One of the challenges with this project is the three- to four-story area used by the printing press,” said Department of City Development economic development specialist Dan Casanova. The newspaper, now owned by Gannett, relocated the printing presses to a new facility in suburban West Milwaukee almost two decades ago.

Jeffers said the plan is to eventually convert the space into an athletic facility for MATC students. “Unfortunately for a variety of reasons we’re not able to do that phase of it right now,” he said. Part of it will become parking for the time being.

Casanova said the city was advancing the funding proposal because creating affordable housing Downtown is more difficult with higher land prices and the difficulty in addressing the printing press space. The city’s financial modeling assumes the $54 million project will only be assessed at $24.7 million when completed. Assessments for rental properties are based on income and affordable housing projects regularly are assessed for less than their construction cost, with public financing closing the gap.

The general contractor on the project is CG Schmidt. Design is being led by Eppstein Uhen Architects. The building to be redeveloped is located at the southwest corner of the intersection of W. State St. and N. Old World Third St. Visually it appears to be three separate buildings, but is really one addition to the 1924-newspaper building.

“We are in a position to start on that in the next 30 days,” said Jeffers, of construction on the first phase. He said a second phase, which would redevelop the Journal Communications building into market-rate housing, is a few months behind as the firm works on securing financing. Both projects, because they are technically part of the same historic designation and tax credit award, must start within six months of one another. “It’s our goal that [the second phase] will be started by the end of this year.”

The second phase would transform the Art Deco-style, six-story building at the northwest corner of N. Vel R. Phillips Avenue and W. State Street. A zoning change for the property, submitted in November 2019, included a plan for 103 units and underground parking.

A frieze (stone artwork wrapping the building), which depicted the history of communication, was removed in 2011. “Part of this project is to replace that with a replica,” said Casanova.

The Journal Communications building is still home to the editorial and sales operations of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, but much of the 256,000-square-foot structure, built in 1924, is vacant. The newspaper plans to relocate to the 330 Kilbourn office complex.

The proposal will next make its way through the Milwaukee Common Council. The Historic Preservation Commission has already approved modifications to the buildings, including adding light wells to the interior, required for the project.

A third building, the vacant four-story structure at 918 N. Vel R. Phillips Ave. formerly used by the Milwaukee Sentinel, is not included in the current plans.

All three buildings are subject to Historic Preservation Commission oversight following a 2019 designation.

A large parking lot at the southeast corner of the block is not part of the plan. The building occupied by Major Goolsby’s restaurant at the southwest corner of the block is also not currently included in the redevelopment plan, but is owned by J. Jeffers & Co.

The firm’s attorney, Danielle Bergner, told the RACM board that redevelopment would be pursued in the future for the remaining properties.

The TIF district being amended originally was created in 2015 to provide $20 million to the Milwaukee Bucks, including $12 million for the plaza outside Fiserv Forum and $8 million towards a new parking structure. Incremental property taxes from the Deer District and team training facility pay back the project debt. “We are well ahead of the schedule on that regard,” said Casanova.



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