Jeramey Jannene
Plats and Parcels

State Could Prosecute Community Within Corridor Developers

But questions remain about the timeline. Plus: A recap of the week's real estate news.

By - Apr 2nd, 2023 08:00 pm
A portion of The Community Within The Corridor development. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The eastern portion of The Community Within The Corridor development. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

One week after residents were evacuated due to an emergency health order, the question of who knew what and when about the hazardous conditions at a Milwaukee apartment building remains unclear. But the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), in an emergency order issued Friday, warned the development team of The Community Within The Corridor (CWC) that it could face prosecution from the Attorney General.

Approximately 150 residents of the eastern half of the complex, located at N. 32nd St. and W. Center St., were evacuated Saturday, March 25 by the Milwaukee Health Department (MHD) after documentation submitted to the DNR showed elevated levels within several areas of the building of an airborne carcinogen known to cause heart defects and other disorders in unborn children and cancer for children and adults subject to long-term exposure. The complex was long occupied by Briggs & Stratton as a factory, with the oldest building dating back 1906.

A joint press conference Tuesday included DNR and city officials, but a development team representative did not appear despite being listed as a participant in a city-issued media advisory. The complex, which has drawn headlines for several years as the largest privately-owned affordable housing development in state history, was developed by Minnesota-based Roers Companies and local developers Que El-AminMikal Wesley and Rayhainio Boynes. The development team, with environmental consultant K. Singh & Associates, had been working with the DNR since 2020 on a mitigation strategy for industrial environmental contamination. The DNR routinely works with developers of brownfield properties to successfully mitigate or abate environmental hazards.

The first residents moved into the western portion of the development, which has not been contaminated, in July, while residents of the now-closed eastern portion moved into the building in December.

At Tuesday’s press conference, DNR officials said they were unaware that anyone had ever moved in. Department of Neighborhood Services (DNS) Commissioner Erica Roberts said the eastern portion of the development was granted a temporary occupancy permit in December because it complied with what DNS reviews — the zoning, building and fire codes — and that the city was unaware of the environmental issue.

But in a Thursday press release, DNR officials cast doubt on the city’s claim. “On Jan. 12, 2023, staff from DNR and Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) proactively met with staff at [MHD] and [DNS] to develop a plan for delaying occupancy of the east block if test results for indoor air quality were elevated based on the known contamination levels beneath the building,” said the department. “The DNR was not notified that the east block was occupied until March 22, 2023, despite requests to the developer for information on the timeline for occupancy.” The release notes that the partners jointly worked on the evacuation plan.

As of that January meeting, the building was already partially occupied. In a statement after the DNR press release, the city said it was unaware of the need for evacuation during the January meeting and that responsibility for environmental compliance is a matter between the DNR and developers.

Adding to the confusion is another state agency that provided low-income housing tax credits to finance much of the $68 million development, the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA).

“Customers need to move in by Dec. 19th to secure WHEDA credits,” wrote a representative of building general contractor Greenfire Management Services in applying for the temporary occupancy permit on Dec. 19. Online records indicate that the permit was requested and granted the same day. Temporary occupancy permits are often used for large apartment buildings, with the city allowing partial occupancy while the project is completed. The December permit request says the project was to be completed in February.

According to the DNR, it was in February that the development team and its partners tested the indoor air quality to assess the efficacy of a vapor mitigation system designed to vent vapors from soil contaminated with trichloroethylene, commonly called TCE. Those records, said the DNR on Tuesday, weren’t provided to the state agency until they were requested several times and showed a concentration in one space of more than 190 times the acceptable level. As several public emails reveal, the DNR maintains it had provided written warnings dating back to 2021 that the development team should not move anyone into the building until the system could be fully tested. Roers, in a statement last Monday, said it tested the system before anyone moved in.

Residents remain in temporary housing, which city officials said the development team would be billed for. Roers, in a written request to the DNR on March 27, asked for residents to be allowed back into portions of the second and third floors of the building where elevated levels weren’t found. The DNR denied the request and suggested a series of adjustments to the developer’s proposed mitigation strategy.

For additional details on the project, see our earlier coverage. For additional information on the evacuation, mitigation strategy and TCE, see our coverage from Tuesday. For a detailed history of the correspondence between the development team and DNR, see the DNR website.


Rendering and Site Plan

Pre-Construction Photos

Weekly Recap

Site Prep Work Underway For Park East Apartments

Initial site preparation work is underway for a new apartment building at the north end of Downtown.

A crew from Michels Corp., under the guidance of general contractor Stevens Construction, is driving piles into the side of a hill at the intersection of N. Broadway and E. Ogden Ave. The piles, driven deep into the ground for stability, will form the foundation of the future building.

Chicago-based LG Group is developing the 197-unit building, which would peak at seven stories tall. The heavy slope of the 1.3-acre site, which runs from N. Milwaukee St. down to N. Broadway, will hide a parking structure in the base of the building.

LG’s website says the building will feature an “outdoor pool, multiple amenity spaces, and a fitness center.” The pool will be located in an interior courtyard, wrapped by three attached structures. The website says 7,670 square feet of retail space is included in the proposal.

Read the full article

Chase Tower Receiving New Amenities

One of Milwaukee’s most prominent office buildings is being renovated under a multi-million dollar plan.

The 22-story Chase Tower, 111 E. Wisconsin Ave., will receive a host of new tenant amenities. Upgrades include a fully-renovated lobby, new first-floor fitness center and locker room complex, new tenant lounge with fireplace and a larger conference room.

New York City-based Group RMC acquired the tower and adjacent parking structure, 543 N. Water St., for $34.25 million in 2021.

The improvements are intended to boost the occupancy rate, which currently stands at 60%. The average occupancy rate for Class A downtown buildings, according to the Commercial Association of Realtors Wisconsin, was 78.9% at the end of 2022.

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Common Ground Bashes City’s Housing Authority

Citing poor conditions, bad management and retaliatory behavior, Common Ground is demanding change from Milwaukee’s second-largest landlord.

The nonprofit organization launched its Tenants United campaign Sunday. The target? The Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee (HACM).

“We’re here today because HACM is failing. They’re failing to provide safe and adequate housing, failing to treat residents with respect and dignity and failing to be accountable and transparent,” said strategy team volunteer member Jonathan Gundlach to the approximately 700 people that gathered at Mount Mary University to launch the campaign. “The buildings may look nice on the outside, but on the inside it’s a different story.”

Common Ground, a broad-based coalition that boasts 40,000 citizen members, says it has interviewed or collected information from more than 1,200 HACM residents, spanning 17 properties, since 2020.

Read the full article

Microsoft Data Center Proposed for Foxconn Land

A new Microsoft data center could soon be coming to a site originally intended for the Foxconn development in Mount Pleasant.

The plans were announced following a closed session of the Mount Pleasant Village Board meeting on Monday. Microsoft is looking to purchase 315 acres for $50 million and invest $1 billion in the overall project.

Village President Dave DeGroot said staff and consultants have been searching for a company to use the land for a year. That’s after original plans from Foxconn to invest $10 billion on a large flat-screen manufacturing plant in Mount Pleasant never came to full fruition.

“The potential benefits for the village cannot be overstated,” DeGroot said about the announcement Monday. He said local investments transformed the area and “equipped it with the infrastructure necessary to support a major investment by Microsoft.”

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New Milwaukee Apartment Building Closed For Health Emergency

Approximately 150 residents of a new Milwaukee apartment complex find themselves living out of a hotel after portions of the complex were found to have an airborne carcinogen present at nearly 200 times the state-mandated action level.

It’s a confusing situation that leaves the unborn children of “a handful” of pregnant residents at risk for fetal heart defects and other immunological disorders, other residents exposed to a chemical known to increase the odds of kidney and liver cancer given long-term exposure, the reputation of the largest private affordable housing development in state history possibly damaged and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) expressing disbelief that people were even living in the building before a mitigation system was fully implemented and testing. It’s also exposed a weakness in the regulatory framework where various layers of government work to ensure buildings are safe and ready for occupancy.

On Saturday, the Milwaukee Health Department (MHD) issued an emergency health order that closed the eastern portion of The Community Within The Corridor (CWC) complex and initiated a resident evacuation. CWC, located at N. 32nd St. and W. Center St., includes 197 apartments created from the redevelopment of a long-vacant factory campus originally built for Briggs & Stratton. The redeveloped buildings opened in phases in 2022, with the now-closed portion opening at the end of the year. The project drew great fanfare for its size, catalytic impact on the neighborhood, plans to create a true community for residents and top-to-bottom equity focus.

As is standard for the redevelopment of a previously occupied site, an environmental assessment was done that determined the western half did not need further remediation while the eastern half would need remediation and mitigation work. The development team, Minnesota-based Roers Companies and local developers Que El-AminMikal Wesley and Rayhainio Boynes, along with environmental consultant K. Singh & Associates, had been working with the DNR as far back as 2020 on a mitigation strategy for the legacy industrial environmental contamination.

Read the full article

Right to Counsel Program a Success, Report Finds

Milwaukee County’s Right to Counsel Program, providing free legal representation for low-income Milwaukee County residents faced with eviction, has been a success, a new report shows.

The program, called Eviction Free MKE, was launched in September 2021 as a pilot program with approximately $3 million in funding from Milwaukee County, the City of Milwaukee and the United Way of Milwaukee and Waukesha. Attorneys from the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee and the Legal Action of Wisconsin have represented participants in the program.

Once the program began, representation for tenants during evictions rose dramatically. That’s according to a new report by Stout, a global investment bank and advisory firm, which was contracted by United Way to monitor and evaluate the efficacy of the project. The report covers the first 16 months of the program from September 2021 through December 2022.

Prior to the launch of the program, the percentage of defendants with legal representation during eviction proceedings was approximately 2% to 3%. After the launch and through Nov. 1, the monthly representation rate was between 6% and 16%, and the average monthly rate of representation was 10%.

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City Seeks To Redevelop Marcus Center Garage

A large parking structure along a key downtown street could be redeveloped under a plan expected to be announced soon.

The Department of City Development is expected to issue a request for proposals (RFP) seeking private developers to redevelop the Marcus Performing Arts Center parking structure, 1001 N. Water St. and underlying 2.45-acre property. A DCD official, during a City Plan Commission meeting Monday afternoon, said the RFP was “going out soon.” The department, on Tuesday, said it would be released in April.

The structure is owned by the city and leased to the nonprofit Marcus Performing Arts Center, which operates its performing arts center just across the street. A skywalk across E. State St. connects the two buildings. The parking structure opened in 1970 and includes approximately 700 spaces.

The parking structure is increasingly out of step with other downtown properties. It is the sole structure on the property, which fills an entire block, and does not include any street-facing commercial space or any other activation. As a result of its design, it functionally disconnects the Water Street entertainment district to the north from the theater complex to the south.

Read the full article

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