The news that the 8-acre portion of Innovation Park that contains the Alexander Eschweiler-designed buildings likely will be rehabilitated by the Mandel Group is good for those of us who have been anxious to see them live on with new purposes.
Mandel is one of the premier developers of condominiums and apartment buildings in Southeast Wisconsin and puts a premium on energy efficiency in its projects. The owner of the land, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Real Estate Foundation, is negotiating with Mandel to purchase the five buildings that sit on an 8-acre piece of the 89 acres the foundation bought from Milwaukee County in February.
The redevelopment can't come soon enough as officials of the UWM foundation have said that the buildings are deteriorating "by the week." The buildings were designed by Alexander Eschweiler, who came to Milwaukee to study at Marquette University and stayed to open his architectural practice in Milwaukee in 1892.
He designed homes for the city's business and commerce elite, including Charles Allis and James K. Ilsley. His commercial works include the Milwaukee Downer College building that is now part of UWM, the Wisconsin Gas Building in Milwaukee and the Japonist pagoda design for filling stations for the former Wadham's Oil and Grease Co., a few of which have survived in the area.
The buildings on the County Grounds were built to house an agricultural college that was one of the state's first attempts at offering technical education. The county's rural population dwindled, and the college was closed in 1928. Since then, the buildings have had a variety of uses, the most widely known was as a county-run sanitarium. They've been vacant for years and have fallen into severe disrepair.
A creative, green developer
Mandel has developed high-end condo and apartment projects on Milwaukee's East Side and in Elm Grove and Brookfield, among other locations. The company is not only dedicated to green building, but is also creative. For example, the city of Milwaukee requires storefronts on the street level of new condominium buildings. With the economy, many of those storefronts have gone vacant. Mandel, in an effort to fill buildings and make the locales more attractive to residential tenants on upper floors, has offered the space to creative types for $1 per month to help them get their businesses off the ground. Of course, the developer hopes they will convert to paying commercial tenants as their businesses grow and become established.
Energy efficiency also is important to Mandel Group. From building materials to Energy Star-rated appliances to high-efficiency heating and cooling systems, the company makes great efforts to create energy-efficient buildings.
Hoping for work to start
The hope is that the agreement between the UWM Real Estate Foundation and Mandel will be inked soon and work can begin on rehabbing those historic buildings.
This year also will bring the beginning of infrastructure changes in the building of roads to begin to create the layout of Innovation Park.
A building that will house what the university calls a business accelerator also is to begin, with the help of a $5.4 million federal grant, later this year.
It seems everyone who sees the potential of Innovation Park is chomping at the bit to see it move along, including many of the 22 engineering professors hired over the past couple years who have purchased homes in Wauwatosa in anticipation of the eventual construction of a $75 million engineering school that will be the centerpiece of Innovation Park.
Robert Warde is a freelance business writer living in Wauwatosa. He has been a journalist for more than 27 years. Reach him at robert.warde@ yahoo.com.
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