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Grant helps businessman spruce up ailing corner

Owner says making parcel attractive is important

Merrick Fruchtman plans to open a Home Solutions USA showroom at the corner of 65th Street and North Avenue.

Merrick Fruchtman plans to open a Home Solutions USA showroom at the corner of 65th Street and North Avenue. Photo By Stefanie Scott

Oct. 26, 2011

Merrick Fruchtman knew he had a challenge ahead of him when he decided to redevelop the blighted building at 65th Street and North Avenue as the new location for his business, Home Solutions USA.

"The whole building had been damaged by fire, water and smoke," he said.

The roof was falling in, the front half of the building had to be gutted and rebuilt, and after 15 years of vacancy a lot of maintenance issues became evident.

"I knew what the community would want is a new structure, an entire new look," Fruchtman said. "I tried to give that to them."

The extensive problems with the building itself caused some of the delays for the project that first came before the city more than 15 months ago for financial assistance. A large part of the hold up was an investigation into the land under the building.

The site was once home to a gas station, and there was concern that gas tanks could still be buried there, brownfields consultant Harris Byers said.

The city's investigation of the site, paid for with grant funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is done and the state Department of Natural Resources is expected to close the case soon.

With the interior work left to complete, Fruchtman, president of Home Solutions USA, hopes to open his showroom for home modifications and adaptive equipment for seniors and people with disabilities by Christmas.

He settled on Wauwatosa because of its central location in the Milwaukee area and because he's lived most of his life in the city. From a business perspective, there are few communities left like Wauwatosa, where people come to spend their entire life and remain in their home until the end, he said.

He could have been open months ago if he had just made the building functional, but he heard from neighbors walking by that this property had been the eyesore in East Tosa for too long. Alderman Michael Walsh said he's fielded numerous complaints about the appearance of the property over the years and he's pleased to see changes happening.

"We want to do it right," Fruchtman said. "You don't cut corners because of time issues. We're trying to show people what we can do with a house. If our building doesn't look good, that's not showing much to the customer."

AT A GLANCE

The city received $400,000 in federal grant dollars to identify and investigate possible brownfield sites within Wauwatosa. The following is a look at some of the properties the money has been used on.

6900 W. State St.: PNC Bank has had plans to build on this property to expand beyond the small storefront it occupies in the next block. A historical review of the property shows it served as home to a former lumber yard. The DNR has closed the investigation on the property and demolition of the building is still anticipated this year so construction can begin in the spring, said Nancy Welch, city community development director.

1245 N. 62nd St.: Derse offered to donate land adjacent to the historic Schoonmaker Reef to the city. Before acquiring the property, the city conducted a brownfields assessment. The city took ownership of the parcel, valued at $300,000, earlier this month.

2578 Wauwatosa Ave.: Foreclosure of this vacant, former drycleaning property is being pursued so the city can proceed with environmental assessment and clean up.

6734 W. North Ave.: The investigation into the East Tosa building is closed and the city is working with the owner and potential purchaser to move forward. The building now houses a martial arts studio and perfume retailer.

Burleigh Street and Mayfair Road: The city has used funds to work with several property owners to move redevelopment proposals forward in this corridor, but specifics aren't available just yet. The city has about $100,000 in remaining grant funds to finish several ongoing projects. In the meantime, the Common Council has given staff the OK to apply for additional funds.

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