Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Admiral’s Wharf Project Targeting December Groundbreaking

RACM approves $1.5 million loan for environmental cleanup.

By - Sep 17th, 2020 06:55 pm
Admiral's Wharf. Rendering by VJS Construction Services.

Admiral’s Wharf. Rendering by VJS Construction Services.

The developers of Admiral’s Wharf, a proposed 11-story, 133-unit apartment building for 234 S. Water St., are lining up the final pieces of financing for the $43 million project.

The building would be the largest in the state built from an energy-efficient insulated-concrete form. It would occupy a site along the Milwaukee River that has housed a boat yard in recent decades.

The developers, a partnership between VJS Development and Bedford Development, came before the board of the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee (RACM) on Thursday afternoon to secure an environmental cleanup loan.

“We are anticipating groundbreaking in December of this year,” said Bailey Copeland of VJS. The firm’s contracting arm, VJS Construction Services, will construct the project and has owned the land for almost a decade. Completion is targeted for July 2022.

Through its Brownfield Revolving Loan Fund Program, RACM would provide $1.5 million in financing for environmental cleanup. The loan would be repaid over a period of 20 years at six percent interest.

“Soil testing has identified contamination including benzyne, [olycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons] and metals,” said RACM senior environmental project engineer Tory Kress. Many of the materials can likely be attributed to the site’s historic use which included grain silos and railroad tracks. After remediation, the site will be capped and a vapor barrier will possibly be installed said Kress.

Units in the building would range from approximately 650-square-foot studios to 1,500-square-foot, three-bedroom penthouses on the building’s top floor. Rents are projected to be approximately $2.20 per square foot per month, said developer Ryan Bedford in November. Under that rate, the smallest studio would rent for $1,430 per month with the penthouses going for $3,300 per month. The penthouses would have each have a private deck. A shared amenity deck and room would be included on the 10th floor overlooking the river and lake. The per-square-foot figure is in line with many other new buildings in the downtown area.

A new segment of the Milwaukee RiverWalk would run the length of the building’s river frontage and connect under the Broadway Bridge with the segments to the west. Copeland and RACM representatives said that design would be an improvement for pedestrians over trying to cross the street. Eighteen boat slips would be included for tenants.

A shared office space would be leased out to tenants needing drop-in space. Copeland said VJS is just the kind of firm that could take advantage of such an offering, having offices in the western suburbs but commonly needing space for the day downtown.

RACM board member Bill Schwartz asked why this proposal is moving forward when the three that preceded it in the past decade haven’t. Most recently developer Peter Renner had proposed to build a larger building at the site with condominiums.

Copeland said the Renner proposal was derailed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources determining the dockwall failed and changing the defined high-water level for the site. The resulting change took the site from approximately 0.7 acres in size to 0.52 by removing approximately 12-feet of buildable space along the river.

“It’s a thin site,” said Copeland. “It’s about about 94 feet from Water Street to the new ordinary high water mark.” The site also slopes downward 14 feet towards the river. She said to make a parking garage work approximately 100 feet is needed. “The property being taken was devastating to the site.”

But she credited Bedford with stepping in and “value engineering” the proposal. Bedford told the Common Council in late 2019 during the zoning approval process that parking in the building could be provided by a valet service that would allow the multi-level garage to grow from 138 stalls to up to 220 by more efficiently using the space. Using the contracted drivers would help mitigate the tight spacing as well. The building would contain three floors of parking.

The board unanimously approved the proposal with Schwartz abstaining without explanation. Common Council President Cavalier Johnson, a RACM board member, said he thought the project would serve as a welcoming gateway to Walker’s Point.

In April the Common Council approved an amendment to the Fifth Ward-First Place tax incremental financing district to provide $2,443,375 to build the riverwalk and rebuild the dockwall. The city, in exchange for an easement, pays for up to 70 percent of the cost of riverwalk construction and 50 percent of dockwall replacement. It is also allocating $125,000 to install a stop light at S. Water St. and E. Pittsburgh Ave.

Bedford, in 2019, estimated Admiral’s Wharf would generate approximately $600,000 a year in incremental property tax revenue. Even without Admiral’s Wharf, the tax incremental financing district is scheduled to close at the end of the 2020 tax year.


Site Photos

Loan Fund

The RACM brownfield loan fund has provided 15 loans and supported preparing 274 acres of land for development according to an agency report. As a result of the loans $500 million in development and 4,373 jobs have been created or retained.

“We are probably the leading entity in the country when it comes to this particular program,” said RACM assistant executive Dave Misky. The program was funded with $10.2 million in grants from the federal Environmental Protection Agency between 2002 and 2014.

The city has used the grant for projects in Century City and the Menomonee Valley said Misky. In addition to loans, $15,000 grants can be provided for initial soal testing. “The crux of it has always been to make it sustainable and provide these loans,” he said.

Interested developers might want to inquire with the city how they can access the program. “We have several million dollars available,” said Misky. “[The Admiral’s Wharf loan] would still leave us with plenty of money in our accounts to provide the loans going forward.”

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