Jeramey Jannene
Friday Photos

Inside The Phillis Wheatley School Redevelopment

Mayor, county executive and HUD regional administrator tour building in advance of July opening.

By - Jun 3rd, 2022 04:58 pm
Phillis Wheatley School. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Phillis Wheatley School. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Nearly all of our Friday Photos columns explore a Milwaukee construction project from just beyond the construction fence, but this week we’re going inside.

The former Phillis Wheatley School at 2442 N. 20th St. will soon reopen as 42 apartments. It’s the latest former Milwaukee Public Schools building to be converted to affordable housing.

A new, four-story building, addressed as 1908 W. Meinecke Ave., will contain an additional 40 apartments. It’s being developed on what was a paved play area at the south end of the 3.8-acre site. Both portions of the project are expected to open in July.

Mayor Cavalier Johnson, County Executive David Crowley, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development regional administrator Diane Shelley and Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority CEO Elmer Moore toured the development Thursday with Royal Capital Group development manager Terrell J. Walter and representatives of general contractor Greenfire Management Services‘ team.

Fifteen of the units will be rented at market rates, with the remainder set aside at reduced rates for those making no more than 60% of the area’s median income. Royal Capital said Thursday it has already referred 400 potential tenants to property manager Horizon Management Group.

Royal Capital President Kevin Newell, a one-time student at the school, spent years working to bring the project to fruition.

During a May 2021 groundbreaking, Newell said the school was a place where he was suspended twice in one week as a first grader and asked not to come back at the end of the year. It was the first school he attended after moving to Milwaukee. “I get to tell the folks I am back anyway,” he said to applause.

The redevelopment was first publicly proposed in 2018 and the city approved a tax incremental financing (TIF) district in 2019 to close a financing gap on the project. The majority of the financing for the $22 million development comes from low-income housing tax credits competitively allocated by WHEDA.

The 84,000-square-foot school building was constructed in 1902 with additions completed in the 1960s and 1970s. The original building was designed by Van Ryn & DeGelleke. MPS closed the school in 2005.

The building is located in the city’s 53206 ZIP code. It is one of the city’s most impoverished ZIP codes, and is infamous for having the highest incarceration rate in the nation.

It’s a ZIP code Crowley lived in as a child. The school property was part of an area he worked in as a YMCA community development specialist.

While touring the development, Johnson looked out a window and said if it was still there he would have been able to see one of the many homes he lived in while growing up. It’s since been demolished, the mayor said.

The first resident of the development, according to a Royal Capital representative, will come from across the street. The first signed lease was an individual that learned they qualify and could move into a newly-constructed unit instead of living in naturally-occurring affordable housing, often aging single-family and duplex homes. Walter said they’ve repeatedly canvassed the neighborhood to let residents know about the project.

Each unit will include an in-unit washer and dryer, energy-efficient appliances and air conditioning. The design of the various units follows the floor plans of the school, with classrooms being divided into one or two apartments. Because of the project’s use of historic preservation tax credits, many of the historic features of the school including wood windows and high ceilings remain and were restored.

A Greenfire representative said the need to use historically-accurate windows and COVID-19 supply chain delays has delayed the project by approximately two months. Royal Capital originally planned to complete the project in the spring.

HUD administrator Shelley was in Milwaukee to announce the agency’s “Our Way Home” initiative focused on increasing the supply of affordable housing.

“Easing the burden of housing costs for families is the top economic priority for the Biden administration,” Shelley said.

The effort aims to better utilize federal resources in cities to create housing.

“We need more investments like the one made here in this city’s 53206 ZIP code,” Shelley said. “Unfortunately, this ZIP code is infamous for having one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation and one of the city’s most impoverished areas. But now we’re doing something with the leadership of your great public officials. We are rejuvenating this neighborhood. [Low income] housing tax credits are one of the most important resources for creating affordable housing.”

Through HUD’s various programs, Wisconsin is to receive $160 million in the next federal fiscal year. Shelley said she couldn’t immediately identify what portion would go to Milwaukee, but she said it would be distributed on a formula basis. HUD and President Joe Biden recently announced that it would reward communities that are increasing the supply of housing with support for even more housing.

The Phillis Wheatley project, according to TIF documents, relies on low-income housing tax credits ($11.18 million), a mortgage from Chase Bank ($2.77 million), historic preservation tax credits ($2.67 million), a TIF district ($1.05 million), a grant from the city’s allocation of federal HOME funds ($400,000), a Federal Home Loan Bank grant ($900,000) and a deferred developer fee ($453,100).

Engberg Anderson Architects is leading the complex’s design.


Renderings & Plans

Pre-Construction Interior Photos

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One thought on “Friday Photos: Inside The Phillis Wheatley School Redevelopment”

  1. kaygeeret says:

    Beautiful and much needed!

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