Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Inside the Soldiers Home Redevelopment

When finished it will provide housing for 101 homeless veterans.

By - Oct 29th, 2020 07:27 pm
Old Main at Soldiers Home. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Old Main at Soldiers Home. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Alexander Company showed off its $44 million redevelopment of six historic buildings at the Soldiers Home complex Thursday afternoon.

Built in 1867 to house soldiers returning from the Civil War, much of the historic 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 signature building, Old Main, was used as a long-term care center for veterans in 1989. At its peak, it had approximately 1,000 veterans living in bunk beds within its walls.

When Alexander finishes its work, the four-story building will be home to 80 apartments, all but 10 of which have one bedroom. The units will be solely for veterans that were homeless or at-risk for homelessness.

The rehabilitated buildings will be managed by the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee. A total of 25,000 square feet of space is being set aside within Old Main for wraparound services.

Firm president Joe Alexander and representatives from general contractor J.P. Cullen walked media members through Old Main and the former administration building, showing off future units and one of the city’s most complicated historic preservation projects.

Cullen has restored 688 windows in Old Main alone, a requirement of the historic preservation tax credits on which the project’s financing relies.

“Basically everything you see is original, and if it isn’t we had to recreate it,” said Alexander, standing in the building’s iconic tower.

The tower, as well as many of the units, have views of the grounds and nearby Miller Park. You can also see the buildings many different pitched roofs. Some of the slate roof sections had to be replaced, which necessitated finding a quarry in Vermont that could produce similar colored marble. Copper was cleaned, as was the building’s Cream City brick facade.

The administration building, once the headquarters for the Civil War-era campus, served as the post office in addition to the housing quarters for the administrators. Now it will hold 14 apartments and a dining room. The former post office room will serve as the dining room, with the development team restoring the teller window and mailbox system, the latter of which involved recasting some of the dozens of boxes.

The tour ended outside the complex, with J.P. Cullen’s Milwaukee division manager Shannon Metoxen presenting Milwaukee Preservation Alliance board president Peter Zanghi a $40,000 check. It’s the first of five installments that will go towards the Save the Soldiers Home capital campaign.

“We are really excited for Soldiers Home to be called home again by these veterans,” said Zanghi.

That donation is one piece of a financing stack that is as complicated as it comes.

Alexander secured 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 to pull off the deal.

The Madison-based firm will lease the buildings for 75 years from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

Want to know more about Soldiers’ Home? The Milwaukee Preservation Alliance launched an at-home learning resource in May. The grounds are also public and a Soldiers Home smartphone application exists to aid your exploration. MPA executive director Jeremy Ebersole told Urban Milwaukee it helped him learn more about the complex, including where canons were formerly mounted, after moving to Milwaukee earlier this year.

Old Main Exterior

Old Main Interior

Administration Building

May Exterior Photos

Pre-Redevelopment

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