Jeramey Jannene
Plats and Parcels

City Creates Bronzeville Development Zone

To spur development, limit chain businesses. Plus: a recap of week's real estate news.

By - Dec 4th, 2022 04:39 pm
The Bronzeville Cultural and Entertainment District. Image from the Department of City Development.

The Bronzeville Cultural and Entertainment District. Image from the Department of City Development.

The City of Milwaukee has a new strategy for Bronzeville that is intended to encourage more development, improve the area’s appearance and discourage chain businesses.

The Department of City Development (DCD), with the backing of area Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs, created a special zoning overlay intended to encourage housing and local businesses in the area by expediting the approval process, clarifying design standards and allowing larger buildings. The overlay also limits what type of businesses can open without special approval. The measure was put into effect in November.

“As we have fought to make Bronzeville all that we know it can be, we recognize that there there is much that has to be done to attract the type of businesses and development we would like to see along the commercial corridor,” said Coggs in introducing the Bronzeville Cultural and Entertainment District Development Incentive Zone proposal to the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee on Nov. 15.

The development incentive zone covers the commercial properties on W. North Ave. between N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. and Interstate 43 (N. 7th St.). The area drew recognition from the New York Times earlier this year as one of 52 places in the world to visit in 2022 and could soon house the Bronzeville Center for the Arts‘ “world-class art and cultural center.” America’s Black Holocaust Museum reopened in a new building earlier this year and a number of vacant sites on the stretch are poised for development.

And while the future is bright, Coggs and other stakeholders have spent extensive amounts of time working to limit or block things like a Family Dollar store or gas station expansion.

“This is the moment if we are going to have some impact on what we want to see here,” said Coggs, noting that new property owners are coming in and that the city is also in the process of selling multiple vacant lots.

Planning manager Sam Leichtling said the overlay builds on past planning efforts for the corridor and is intended to facilitate development, not introduce barriers. “[The] standards were crafted very carefully,” said Leichtling. “In this particular overlay, there is a focus on uses.”

Permitted uses include apartments, cultural institutions, music, art, dance or theater schools and a number of family-friend retail uses (clothing, art, books, collectibles, household goods, toys and food and beverage). But the businesses would need to have four or fewer locations to qualify, otherwise they would be labeled a “formula business.”

“Formula businesses of any size… would all be conditional,” said DCD senior planner Amy Oeth. Conditional approval could be granted by the City Plan Commission, but is not guaranteed. It’s the first time the city has proposed such a restriction.

“Is that legal?” asked Alderman Michael Murphy.

Leichtling said based on DCD research and practices in other cities it was, but DCD had not solicited a formal opinion from the City Attorney. Sister Bay, WI instituted a citywide “formula restaurant” ban in 2010 and other cities across the country have adopted similar prohibitions.

A handful of uses, regardless of the size of the operator, would also be conditional and require discretionary approval. That includes community centers, recreation facilities, colleges, second-hand stores, financial institutions, furniture stores, hardware stores, sporting goods stores, pet stores and pharmaceutical stores. Businesses proposing a location in excess of 10,000 square feet would also need conditional approval.

Prohibited uses include single-family or duplex houses, day cares, schools, drive-thrus, check-cashing or payday loan stores and a number of retail categories including automobile parts, firearms, tobacco and liquor. Coggs said the retail prohibitions are consistent with what the city uses on its competitively-sold properties.

Development Incentives

An increase to the allowed density in Bronzeville permits one apartment for every 300 square feet of lot area, up from 800 square feet under the current LB2 zoning designation. The change allows larger apartment buildings to be built with shorter approval processes and without fear of rejection.

The maximum building height was increased to 75 feet from 60, but only if a developer builds an outdoor tenant space that meets a series of design standards. The strategy is designed to encourage well-planned resident common spaces.

The minimum building height was increased from LB2’s 18 feet to 30 feet. Additional changes were made to setback calculations to encourage installation of wider sidewalks or sidewalk dining areas.

New design requirements also include larger first-floor windows, intended to be consistent with the area’s historic commercial buildings, and prohibitions on window perimeter lighting (which has spread amongst liquor and tobacco stores in the past decade) and off-premise signs (billboards).

331-339 W. North Ave., home of the Bronzeville Collective. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

331-339 W. North Ave., home of the Bronzeville Collective. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Application fees were reduced to be consistent with those applicants would currently encounter with the Board of Zoning Approvals. The zones include a defined, expedited plan review schedule.

Development proposals that meet the standards of the district would only require City Plan Commission review, skipping the Common Council and shortening the approval cycle. Requests to deviate from the plan would be forwarded to the full council for review.

The city has 13 other development incentive zones, most of which are targeted at shopping areas, like Midtown Center, or industrial business parks, like the Towne Corporate Park of Granville. Such a zone also governs development at The Brewery District, a mixed-use district.

Council Members Like What They See

“This is really interesting and inventive,” said Ald. Scott Spiker. “I have a million ideas for copying things here.”

But instead of spending time discussing the merits of the incentives during the zoning hearing, council members explicitly endorsed the restrictive aspects.

Spiker, Murphy, Marina Dimitrijevic and Jose G. Perez spoke in favor of using the restrictions elsewhere in the city.

“The reality is that the overlay zone is the only tool we have to prohibit some of these issues,” said Murphy. “There is nothing I can do to stop a tobacco store.”

But Leichtling said the city feels the restrictions are enforceable in part because of their limited area. “It is a tool that only makes sense in an that area is so unique, that is just a unique regulation,” he said.

Coggs noted that the city identified Bronzeville as a commercial development district between the two predominantly residential neighborhoods of Halyard Park and Harambee.

But she endorsed Murphy’s desire to find ways to regulate liquor, tobacco and check-cashing stores in other areas of the city. She’s had a front-row seat to the proliferation of such businesses as the longtime chair of the Licenses Committee.

“I am with you that it is time to find something, some kind of tool, because it is impacting our neighborhoods like crazy,” said the alderwoman.

The council unanimously approved the creation of the overlay zone on Nov. 22.

In addition to Coggs, members of the plan advisory group consisted of King Drive Business Improvement District director Raynetta Hill, Sam Cunningham of Pete’s Market, Angela Mallett of HoneyBee Sage, Tiffany Miller of the Bronzeville Collective, LaShawndra Vernon from the Bronzeville Advisory Committee and Artists Working in Education and DCD planner Terrence Moore.

Weekly Recap

Groundbreaking For New Third Ward Tower

Construction is already underway on a 31-story tower in the Historic Third Ward, but that didn’t stop the 333 North Water Street development team and city officials from gathering Friday morning to ceremonially toss dirt and celebrate the project.

The Chicago office of international real estate firm Hines is developing the high-end, 333-unit apartment tower. It includes riverfront restaurant space, a new access point to the riverwalk, an eighth-floor pool atop a seven-story parking structure and commercial space facing N. Water St. The $165 million building is being developed on a 0.79-acre parking lot that a neighborhood plan identified as suited for a “landmark” building.

“Projects like this are great, but they take a lot of work to put together,” said Hines’ senior managing director Tom D’Arcy. The tower is being designed by Devon Patterson of Solomon Cordwell Buenz and constructed by W.E. O’Neil Construction. It required a combination of design and zoning approvals from the Historic Third Ward Architectural Review Board, City Plan Commission and Common Council.

Read the full article

City To Fund 12 Affordable Housing Projects

A little-known city housing program will provide a big boost to 12 affordable housing efforts in Milwaukee.

The Housing Trust Fund will allocate $8.83 million to everything from new apartment buildings to an acquisition fund designed to block out-of-state landlords. The grants, designed as a “last in” strategy to close financing gaps, will leverage more than $105 million from other funding sources to create hundreds of units of affordable housing.

Projects receiving support include previously announced affordable apartment buildings like EIGHTEEN87 on Water and the Riverwest Workforce Apartments and Food Accelerator as well as new proposals like KG Development‘s plan to redevelop a former Jewish Home at 2436 N. 50th St.

The fund has a record amount of capital available following the Common Council’s allocation of $10 million from the city’s $394.4 American Rescue Plan Act grant. Prior to the 2021 allocation, the fund had only granted $8 million in its 15-year history.

Read the full article

American Family Cancels Downtown Office Plan

American Family Insurance is citing the pandemic’s impact on workplace culture and a shift to remote work in announcing its cancelation of a 2019 plan to develop a downtown Milwaukee office for up to 400 employees.

It’s selling the five-story building at 1311-1325 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. that it intended to redevelop.

“When the pandemic opened up options for how and where employees work, it meant American Family, like so many other companies, had to evaluate our real estate footprint and the space we need for the future,” said Kari Grasee, vice president of business and workplace services, in a press release. “We’ve since developed a plan for our real estate portfolio, based on careful consideration of many factors such as business and space needs, lease terms and current building use.”

The Madison-based insurance company paid $9.6 million for the 93,750-square-foot building in December 2019 as part of a joint venture with Van Buren Management. The plans called for adding floors to the top of the structure. American Family announced it was in the market for a Milwaukee office alongside its January 2019 announcement that it would take over the naming rights of Miller Park (now American Family Field).

Read the full article

Public Museum Picks Firms to Oversee New Museum’s Construction

The operator of the Milwaukee Public Museum, MPM Inc., announced Tuesday it has contracted with firms to represent them in the construction of a new museum to replace the public museum, currently at 800 W. Wells St.

“Signing an owner’s representative brings expert oversight to the future Museum construction process to ensure we remain on budget and on schedule as we deliver on our vision to bring this once-in-a-generation new Museum to our community,” said Katie Sanders, Chief Planning Officer at MPM. 

Three firms have been hired: MC Group and its partners Capital Projects and Emem Group.

“The owner’s representative team will work closely with MPM, Future Museum architecture firms Ennead and Kahler Slater, exhibit designers Thinc Design and contractors at Mortenson and ALLCON to ensure the project follows the outlined schedule and budget and will support the Museum with permitting, consultant selection and onboarding, budget, schedule and compliance,” MPM Inc. said in a statement.

Read the full article

$6.5 Million Awarded for Suburban Affordable Housing

Three contractors have been awarded a total of $6.5 million by Milwaukee County for housing projects in suburban communities that are expected to create 129 units of affordable housing.

The projects are part of a county effort to develop affordable housing in the suburbs. The county is using $15 million from its allocation of federal stimulus funding under the American Rescue Plan Act to provide gap financing for these projects.

The first three contractors awarded funding are Jewish Family Services Inc. ($2 million), the Luther Group ($2 million) and MSP Real Estate Inc. ($2.5 million). The funding for Jewish Family Services is contingent on securing $2 million in low-income housing tax credits.

Luther Group is working on a housing development at 7501 W. North Ave. in Wauwatosa along with AbleLight, which provides services for people with intellectual disabilities. The project will include 17 units of affordable housing.

Read the full article

Vacant Building Could Be Hub for Entrepreneurs

Real estate investor Daniel Taylor and “mommypreneur” Sieria Payne have big plans for a vacant office building at N. 76th St. and W. Capitol Dr.

Taylor’s Jefferson Court firm will purchase and redevelop the three-story, 21,000-square-foot office building at 3953 N. 76th St. Jefferson Court intends to reconfigure the building to have approximately 17 small office suites, with a layout similar to how it was used in the past.

Jefferson Craft will pay $75,000 for the property and a Department of City Development (DCD) report indicates Jefferson will invest approximately $495,000 to rehabilitate the property. The firm and its affiliate, Building New Pathways Assisted Living, will relocate to the top floor of the building.

“We plan to offer events to the community that bring in free mental health care services, free local food drives and giveaways. We also would bring in financial literacy speakers that would teach the community how to fix their credit and how to do homeownership,” said Payne, Taylor’s partner on the project, to the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee on Nov. 15.

Read the full article

Milwaukee Rep Reveals Details, Designs of $75 Million Theater Overhaul

The Milwaukee Repertory Theater is moving full-speed ahead on its $75 million proposal to rebuild its three-theater complex, 108 E. Wells St., in downtown Milwaukee.

The organization publicly launched its “Powering Milwaukee” campaign Tuesday morning, revealed more design details and announced $43 million has been raised. That includes two new $1.5 million donations from Northwestern Mutual and We Energies‘ foundations.

“It’s been nearly 40 years since our organization has asked the community for a major investment in our facilities, but we’ve come to a critical point when Milwaukee Rep can no longer adequately support our growth without jeopardizing our future. The Powering Milwaukee Campaign will ensure we’re able to offer programming that promotes equity and positive change, serves as an economic engine for a growing Downtown, and provides critical arts education for children statewide,” said Chad Bauman, The Rep’s executive director, in a statement. The proposal includes developing a new mainstage theater, new studio theater, new lobby area, education center and a series of back-of-the-house upgrades.

Read the full article

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Related Legislation: File 220772

One thought on “Plats and Parcels: City Creates Bronzeville Development Zone”

  1. Polaris says:

    Uh oh…zoning that actually works? M. Nolan Gray must be sh*tying a brick!

    Excluding single family homes and duplexes: Brilliant.

    Excluding formula retail: Absolutely. San Francisco bans formula retail throughout large swaths of The City. It works in creating and maintaining unique and interesting places in which to live and visit.

    No window perimeter lighting: God, yes. I live in one of the most lively and desirable neighborhoods in Chicago and we started seeing these a couple years ago. The councilman quickly put a stop to that. Trashy and obnoxious.

    Here’s to MKE’s growing Bronzeville!

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