Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Former Gimbels Will Be “ThriveOn King”

$84.5 million MLK Drive project to have 77 apartments and offices for medical college and Greater Milwaukee Foundation.

By - Jan 26th, 2021 03:56 pm
Schuster's redevelopment. Conceptual rendering by Engberg Anderson Architects.

Schuster’s redevelopment. Conceptual rendering by Engberg Anderson Architects.

The former Schuster’s and Gimbels department store at 2153 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. has a new name, again. Actual construction is still expected to begin in the coming weeks.

In September, the partners on the $84.5 million project held a virtual press conference to announce the partnership would be known as the ThriveOn Collaboration. Tuesday they gathered virtually again to announce the building itself would be ThriveOn King.

“The heart of this project is really about community,” said the Greater Milwaukee Foundation‘s COO and CFO Kenneth Robertson. He announced the formation of a community advisory council made up of residents of the adjacent Harambee, Halyard Park and Brewers Hill neighborhoods.

The project partners, including the foundation, Medical College of Wisconsin and Royal Capital Group, announced in December they had purchased the 455,000-square-foot complex. State records show they paid $9.3 million.

The eastern half of the complex, facing the King Drive commercial corridor, will be used as 131,000 square feet of Class A office space for MCW’s community-facing programs and GMF’s headquarters. A community space is planned for the first floor of the entire complex.

In addition to the new office space, a total of 77 apartments — a mix of affordable and market-rate apartments — would be developed on the western portion of the complex along N. Vel R. Phillips Ave. A 315-stall parking structure will be constructed on the southwest corner of the nearly full-block property.

“We are going to walk and chew gum,” said Royal Capital president Kevin Newell of the need to continue to refine community uses for the buildings while construction begins. The redeveloped complex is planned to open in spring 2022.

Robertson said one of the first recommendations from the council was $30,000 in grants from ThriveOn towards youth programming, employment training and community activities. The grants went to Jacarrie Kicks for Kids, ImagineMKE, Colliers Training Institute and WestCare Wisconsin. The council is also planning a time capsule to be embedded in the building.

“Having the community voice as part of the ThriveOn Collaboration is essential to our work,” said MCW senior vice president Greg Wesley.

The collaboration has five target areas for which the partners will work to uplift the surrounding area: housing, early childhood education, health & wellness, social cohesion and economic opportunity.

“The most significant impact is yet to come,” said GMF president and CEO Ellen Gilligan.

The central piece of the project is the redevelopment of the complex, most recently used as a warehouse by CH Coakley & Co. A video played during the press conference showed off many of the historic fixtures that would be restored and explained how the former department store was built in phases. Engberg Anderson Architects is leading design work on the project.

“Home is where the heart is, and our heart is on Martin Luther King Drive,” said Gilligan.

The foundation made a $10 million impact investment to advance the project. It also made a $1 million investment in Gateway Capital’s venture capital fund intended to back small businesses owned by Black and brown entrepreneurs.

“I applaud the effort, the investment and the collaborative focus on what is being developed through ThriveOn,” said Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs.

The oldest building in the complex was built in 1907 as a home for Schuster’s department store. The Gimbels chain acquired Schuster’s in 1961 and operated the store until 1969. It was used as a warehouse by Gimbels (which eventually went out of business) until 1992 according to city records. It was then acquired by CH Coakley & Co. which used the building for storage and office space. Many of the former department store fixtures, including escalators, can still be found in the building.

“It’s probably one of the biggest transformations of a building that you’ll see in the city from start to finish,” said Department of City Development economic development specialist Dan Casanova when the city was considering a $12.6 million financing commitment in late 2019. “If you’ve lived in Milwaukee for a number of years, you probably go by and forget that it’s there.”

The building’s facade has been covered by metal panels for decades. But the redevelopment, supported by historic preservation tax credits, will have them removed and the facade restored.

For more on the project’s complicated financing package, see our 2019 coverage of the city committing $12.6 million in future property tax revenue to the project. For more on the partnership and future community stakeholder events, see the project website.

MCW Announces New Endowed Chair

The press conference also included the announcement of a new endowed chair at the medical school. Dr. Leonard E. Egede will serve as the Milwaukee Community Chair in Health Equity Research.

“The effort to raise $2 million was achieved in a very short term,” said MCW president Dr. John Raymond, Sr. “In particular  I want to thank Cory Nettles and Jackie Herd-Barber.” He said the fundraising effort was led by Black leaders.

Raymond said Herb Kohl Philanthropies provided the lead gift of $1 million.

Egede, according to an online biography, wears many hats at MCW. He is a  general internist, tenured professor, chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine, director of the MCW Center for Advancing Population Science (CAPS) and associate director of Cancer Disparities at the MCW Cancer Center.

March 2019 Unveiling

2015 Facade Exposure

Renderings and Site Plans

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