Apartments, library recommended for south side building

By Tom Daykin of the Journal Sentinel, Dec. 17, 2014

A south side building would be redeveloped into a Milwaukee library branch and 33 apartments under a proposal recommended Tuesday night by city officials.

The Forest Home Library, at 1432 W. Forest Home Ave., would be replaced by a new library branch on the street level of an underused four-story building at 906-910 W. Historic Mitchell St.

That $10.4 million project, proposed by a partnership of development firm Gorman & Co., property owner Mitchell Investment Properties and construction manager VJS Construction Services Inc., would include market-rate apartments on the renovated building’s upper floors, and 96-space parking lot.

The Milwaukee Public Library’s Board of Trustees selected the Gorman proposal over a competing proposal from Cardinal Capital Management Inc. and Journey House to develop a library, 51 units of affordable housing and additional commercial space within a new four-story building at 1135 S. Cesar Chavez Drive.

The trustees selected the Gorman proposal because its market-rate apartments complement the library and would create a catalytic project for the neighborhood, said Brooke VandeBerg,  library communications and marketing director.

The Mitchell St. location is central to the library’s service area, within a prominent business district, VandeBerg said.

Also, the project can be completed within a short time frame, and the developers have a secure financing strategy, including the use of state and federal historic preservation tax credits, she said.

The 80,000-square-foot building, built in 1919 as the Hills Department Store, is only about 30% leased, said John Kesselman, the property’s listing agent.

The building has had difficulties finding tenants since United Migrant Opportunity Services Inc. moved its headquarters to 2701 S. Chase St. around 10 years ago.

A board committee last week declined to recommend either the Gorman or Cardinal Capital proposal due to concerns about financing, and a lack of details. The Gorman proposal initially included affordable apartments, which would have needed additional tax credits for financing the project.

The board on Tuesday night also expressed interest in another proposal recommended by that committee: to replace the Mill Road Library, at 6431 N. 76th St., with a four-story structure to be built on a city-owned lot at 7717 W. Good Hope Road.

A partnership of Milwaukee-based Maures Development Group LLC, St. Paul, Minn.-based CommonBond Communities Inc., and Milwaukee-based Engberg Anderson Inc. would develop a library, 46 affordable apartments on the upper levels, potential street-level commercial space, on-site parking and outdoor green space, according to the conceptual plans.

Before making a final decision, the board wants more information on the Maures proposal, including a review of the developer’s market study, VandeBerg said.

Both projects also would require Common Council approval.