Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Can Menomonee Valley Project Attract Tenants?

Style of industrial development common in suburbs draws questions at City Hall.

By - Jun 15th, 2022 12:45 pm
841 W. Canal St. rendering. Rendering by Briohn Building Corporation.

841 W. Canal St. rendering. Rendering by Briohn Building Corporation.

The fact that a developer is seeking to build an industrial building without any confirmed tenants drew plenty of questions from the Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee Tuesday. But the development firm behind the project is confident it will find occupants.

Known as a speculative or spec building, the 180,469-square-foot flexible industrial structure could be leased to a single tenant or subdivided.

Such developments have been uncommon in the city proper, where land is more scarce, but have proliferated on suburban freeway corridors in recent years amidst a surge in warehouse demand.

It’s that scarcity along with urban amenities that is drawing developer Westminster Capital to the Menomonee Valley.

“We feel very confident that there is be demand for a property like this, especially in the Menomonee Valley,” said Westminster vice president Matthew Van Wie. “Obviously we think there is an opportunity here with it being one of the last sites in the valley where we can assemble enough land to build a building of this significance.”

Westminster would develop the building on the 10.54-acre property at 841 W. Canal St., just west of S. 6th St. and the Harley-Davidson Museum. Van Wie said the site would easily connect employers to job seekers and employees to the nearby amenities, including Downtown. “They don’t want to be hopping from suburb to suburb,” he said.

The council is being asked to rezone a portion of the site, which is currently part of a special zoning district for We EnergiesValley Power Plant.

“I really wish I had a list of potential companies,” said Alderman Michael Murphy, the committee chair.

Van Wie said there is no list to give at this point, but Westminster was still on track to move forward. He said it would likely be a mix of manufacturing or light assembly firms. “The value-add employment generators,” he said.

Could it become public storage? asked Ald. Robert Bauman. No, said Department of City Development deputy commissioner Vanessa Koster. She said the area’s development incentive zone designation regulates the types of tenants. That includes a prohibition on tenants whose primary function is to operate a warehouse or distribution center.

Council President and area alderman Jose G. Perez also asked about the potential tenants.

“We have built three speculative buildings in the Milwaukee area in recent years,” said Van Wie. Two in New Berlin and, most recently, one in Pewaukee.

“The first one leased up while we were under construction,” said Van Wie. The second one was leased within nine months after construction was completed. The Pewaukee building was finished earlier this year. “We are actually in discussions with several prospective tenants right now.”

The Illinois-based developer said there is a nationwide shortage of “Class A” industrial space, but it is particularly acute in Milwaukee.

“When you guys think about your next project and want to move forward, please reach out to Alderman [Khalif Rainey] about Century City because I think there is a lot of opportunity there as well,” said Perez.

Developer and brewer Dan Katt is already working on such a project, though at a smaller scale than the proposed Menomonee Valley building.

The committee unanimously endorsed the zoning change. The full council is scheduled to review the proposal on June 21.

The City Plan Commission, which has final oversight of the development incentive zone, approved its portion of the project in May and recommended the council advance the zoning change. It also requested that design-build firm Briohn Building Corporation work with DCD staff to improve pedestrian access to the site.

Loading docks would run along the west side of the 38-foot-tall building, facing the Interstate 94 High Rise Bridge. The east side of the building would include a 197-stall surface parking lot.


Site Photos

Site History

The property, owned by We Energies, has been vacant for approximately two decades. It previously was the site of a Milwaukee Tallow Company rendering plant known infamously for its smell.

Allen Edmonds considered building a new factory on the property in 2001, but beyond initial grants for site cleanup, that project never progressed. Former Allen Edmonds owner John Stollenwerk maintained ownership of the site for the next decade and a half.

Lakefront Brewery considered building a new brewery on the site in 2013, but ultimately canceled those plans. Stollenwork then sold to We Energies in 2014.

The site is technically two parcels: a smaller site at 131 S. 7th St. and the parcel addressed as 841 W. Canal St. Two baseball batting cages are about the only markers on the property.

The southern edge of the site borders the South Menomonee Canal, once a key waterway to deliver coal to the power plant. In 2015 the plant converted to burning natural gas.

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