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Apartment developer may save only one of historic Eschweiler buildings

June 8, 2012

If an anticipated apartment complex project is to remain economically feasible, only one of four historic Eschweiler buildings may survive the transformation, the prospective developers acknowledged this week.

Developers from Mandel Group told the Wauwatosa Historic Preservation Commission on Wednesday that, in their latest review of the project's potential, they feel the remaining buildings don't provide enough economic value.

"They are inefficient, inflexible buildings when adapted for alternative uses," said Phil Aiello, senior development manager with Mandel Group. "We went into the process with the intention to save all the Eschweiler buildings. They have outlived their economic life."

Mandel's conceptual plan calls for preserving the former agricultural school administration building and the quadrangle of green space that is home to some century-old trees. Nearly 200 apartment units would be constructed among eight new buildings.

Developers estimated the project cost at $15 million and anticipate a poor rate of return on the three other Eschweiler buildings, which would be demolished. Little more than 50 percent of the building space would be feasible for rent, compared with typically 85 percent in new construction, Aiello said.

Several members of the public urged the commission to get an independent consultant to verify the economic hardship before considering any demolition of buildings, which together are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Preservationists in attendance said the plan goes against the city's directive to save the buildings as part of the approval of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Innovation Park proposal.

No action was taken since the developer has yet to submit an official proposal, commission Chairman Brian Faltinson said.

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