Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Inside the Newly Opened Journal Commons

Former newspaper headquarters now a 141-unit apartment building.

By - Nov 15th, 2022 03:35 pm
Journal Commons. Photos by Jeramey Jannene.

Journal Commons. Photos by Jeramey Jannene.

The redevelopment of the former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel complex reached a major milestone Monday: the first residents began moving into the signature, Art Deco building, now known as Journal Commons.

“When we started this project last year I don’t think I appreciated how important this building was to so many people,” said developer Joshua Jeffers at a ribbon cutting Tuesday morning. At its peak, the six-story building and ancillary printing and office buildings housed approximately 2,500 workers. Jeffers noted there are thousands of people with Milwaukee Journal or Milwaukee Sentinel connections, and many of them have approached him to offer thoughts or remembrances of the building.

The building now houses 141 market-rate apartments, a mix of studio and one-bedroom units. “This building is intended to fit within the budget of young professionals, primarily right out of college, wanting to be Downtown,” said Jeffers. Rent starts at $1,195 per month, which Jeffers said is among the cheapest unsubsidized prices for new buildings located in Downtown. He noted the building accommodates service workers from the adjacent Deer District or office workers looking to walk to work.

Journal Commons, backed by historic preservation tax credits, preserves many of the most significant elements of the one-time newspaper plant. The editor’s suite, a collection of wood-paneled rooms with a central mural by Armin O. Hansen that tells the history of communication, is now a series of community rooms. A sixth-floor executive and editorial suite, a 1960s addition to the 1924 building, is now a party room with a linear rooftop deck. The wood-paneled lobby now welcomes residents instead of journalists. Wood block floors are exposed in many of the common spaces, with no signs of ink stains. A co-working space is located on the first floor, complete with kitchen and large collage of preserved newspapers.

The complex covers a full downtown block bounded by W. State St., W. Kilbourn Ave., N. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. and N. Vel R. Phillips Ave. Journal Commons is at the northwest corner, 333 W. State St. The building was developed by J. Jeffers & Co. with design work by Eppstein Uhen Architects and Quorum Architects, general contracting led by CG Schmidt and preservation consulting support from Heritage Consulting Group. The development includes the insertion of a light well, effectively a cutout area, into the middle of the building that provides natural light to interior apartments.

Joining the apartment building to the east is a 195-unit student housing building, developed in partnership with Milwaukee Area Technical College. Known as Westown Green, that development was crafted out of a 1962 addition to the Journal building that was designed to house a modern printing press in its base. To the south is The Sentinel Building, 918 N. Vel R. Phillips Ave., where the once competing newspaper was located, which was vacant for several years and is now home to charter school operator Seeds of Health‘s Tenor High School.

“Yes, we have these beautifully restored buildings, but we also this new ecosystem,” said Jeffers. He noted that students could graduate from the high school, then attend MATC while living at Westown Green and ultimately graduate and relocate to Journal Commons.

“In Milwaukee we are constantly reinventing ourselves, and Journal Commons is a symbol of that reinvention,” said Mayor Cavalier Johnson is praising the effort.

Interior design firms Brothers Interiors and Three Sixty worked on the project. The building will be managed by Founders 3. Three companies, Busey Bank, US Bank and Midland States Bank, helped finance the $35 million deal. The City of Milwaukee, via a tax incremental financing project, provided Jeffers with $1 million via a developer-financed tax incremental financing district to support 27 units of affordable housing in Westown Green and the partial restoration of a frieze (stone artwork wrapping the building) that chronicled the history of communication which was removed by Journal Communications in 2011. The Milwaukee County Historical Society had a portion of the frieze in storage before returning it to Jeffers. The developer said it will eventually be displayed throughout the building.

Jeffers acquired the entire complex for $8 million from an affiliate of newspaper owner Gannett. The remaining newspaper employees relocated to the 330 Kilbourn office complex in late 2020. Westown Green was completed in August 2021, the same month that construction on Journal Commons started. The complex was mostly vacant by the time Jeffers acquired it, with printing relocated to West Milwaukee (and now Illinois) and the newspaper staff substantially reduced.

The Journal Commons building was originally designed by Chicago architect Frank D. Chase. Its foundation is capable of supporting a 42-story building, a reflection of its onetime use as a printing plant and a reflection of an era when newspapers were giant businesses. Approximately 13,000 square feet, divided into two stalls, remains available for lease along the west side of the building.

Westown Green is 99% leased and Jeffers characterized the initial Journal Commons leasing activity as strong. Vice president of investments Tyler Parbs is rooting for the project’s success for more than financial reasons; he got a tattoo of the building on his left arm.

The southeast corner of the block, currently a surface parking lot, could eventually house an eight-story Tempo by Hilton Milwaukee hotel. The development, on which Jeffers is partnering with HKS Holdings, could break ground in spring 2023, but the developer said rising construction costs and interest rates could imperil that timeline.



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