Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Former Downer Chancery To Be Renovated For New Tenants

SereniTea would occupy half of space, which will be reconfigured in line with its original design.

By - Aug 25th, 2023 01:08 pm
Site of future Serenitea, 2575 N. Downer Ave. Photo taken Sept. 30, 2022 by Jeramey Jannene.

Site of future Serenitea, 2575 N. Downer Ave. Photo taken Sept. 30, 2022 by Jeramey Jannene.

A long-vacant restaurant space on Downer Avenue will be renovated as part of a project to make the building more attractive, and functional, for future tenants.

Bridge33 Capital will split the 4,200-square-foot stall last occupied by the Chancery Pub and Restaurant into two distinct spaces in line with how the two-story building once was laid out.

The restaurant shuttered in 2007 and the space, 2575 N. Downer Ave., has become a white whale on the Upper East Side, with residents holding out hope that something would replace it while several storefronts nearby saw continued activity.

SereniTea, a cafe specializing in boba tea, is now proposing to open a new location in half of the Chancery space.

“We are just going to be taking that small portion of the facade that has been modified multiple times over the years and bring it back very similar to how it was,” said Patera architect Steven Esser to the City Plan Commission on Monday. “Very shortly, hopefully, you’ll have some new tenants in there bringing some life back to the space.”

“We’re also going to be ‘whiteboxing’ the space on the inside. Right now it still has some of the remnants of the Chancery,” said Esser.

The commission unanimously endorsed the change, which falls under a larger specialized zoning designation for the district. The Historic Preservation Commission previously approved the change.

The building was constructed in 1936 according to a Historic Preservation Commission report. The first floor has been modified several times, while the second level still contains much of the original facade.

Bridge33 acquired much of the Downer Avenue commercial strip in April 2020 for $11.25 million. It now owns the properties at 2551-2597 N. Downer Ave., which includes the Chancery space, and 2608-2650 N. Downer Ave. Its tenants include the Downer Theatre, Boswell Book CompanyCafe Hollander, Starbucks and Stone Creek Coffee. The Chancery space is located between stalls occupied by Optix and Salon Nova.

Bridge33 previously added apartments to the second floor of The Chancery building, converting what was office space to one-bedroom units.

A previous investment group, led by Joel Lee and New Land Enterprises, had considered adding a condominium tower and a hotel to the neighborhood before a foreclosure case saw a New York firm in 2015 take control of the properties. Entities affiliated with Lee still own a handful of nearby properties, including the parking structure and the upper floors of the building that houses Boswell Books.

Park Place Townhomes

Another Bridge33 project at the north end of the commercial corridor appears to be struggling with permitting and inspection approvals. For more than a year, four nearly-finished condominium townhomes have appeared nearly complete at the corner of N. Downer Ave. and E. Park Pl.

Dubbed the Park Place Townhomes, the four-unit building replaced a fire-damaged home. Each was listed for sale, pre-completion, for a minimum of $550,000 before the listings were pulled.

A series of Department of Neighborhood Services inspection reports detail concerns with shared walls, window sizes, stair heights and other technical items. “Discussed remaining corrections needed & change in contractor,” says a July 20 summary.

Merchants Plat Builders was the original general contractor on the project. Patera is designing the complex with Esser as the architect of record.

The building previously on the site, a three-unit structure built in 1895, was effectively destroyed in a 2019 fire. The blaze was started by a transient tenant who also attacked the property owner during the incident. The fire did $1.1 million in damage to a structure assessed for $395,000. An affiliate of Bridge33 purchased the 7,200-square-foot lot and fire-ravaged structure for $230,000 in November 2020.

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