With concerns addressed, neighbors applaud proposed final development plan for Union Corners

By Jenny Peek, The Isthmus, 04/25/2014

The plans for Union Corners have gone through several iterations, and neighbors have at times been harshly critical. But the final general development plan for the 11.5-acre project at the corner of East Washington Avenue and Milwaukee Street seems to have hit the sweet spot.

Residents who packed a neighborhood meeting Thursday night at Bashford United Methodist Church applauded more than once the efforts of Gorman & Company, the developers of the project, Plunkett Raysich Architects and UW Hospital and Clinics to take the neighborhood’s concerns into account.

“I’m really pleased with what happened tonight,” Gary Gorman, CEO of Gorman & Company, said after the meeting. “People that have been not very shy about being critical were really supportive.”

Gorman attributed the positive response of neighbors to the flexibility of UW Hospital and Clinics and to Plunkett Raysich’s responsiveness to the community’s concerns.

Ald. Marsha Rummel was happy to see the drastic change in design from the plans presented in January. “The January submission to the Urban Design Commission — it was terrifying. It was worse than what they had initially submitted that won them the whole shebang, so the neighborhoods got to work, and we met with [Gorman] and UW Health, and they really responded.”

The major concern from the January design revolved around the placement of the UW Hospital Clinic on the corner of East Washington and Milwaukee Street. The neighborhood hoped the corner would serve instead as the gateway into the mixed-use development.

Project consultant and manager Joe Schwenker said the developers went back to the drawing board after the January meeting. “We met with the steering committee, who met with some of the neighbors; we met with city staff; we met with Mayor [Paul] Soglin twice; and here we are today with a new plan that hopefully respects and responds to all of your concerns,” Schwenker told the crowd.

Schwenker noted it was important to the developer to create a sense of place for the project and to treat the neighborhood as a client, along with its other clients — the city and UW Health.

The new design relocates the UW clinic to the corner of East Washington and Sixth Street, a new controlled intersection, leaving the main corner of the property for commercial and retail surrounding a town square area that could be used for festivals or farmers’ markets. The corner space will also include an organic grocery store, Fresh Thyme.

The combined effort of four neighborhoods — Worthington Park, Eken Park, Emerson East and Schenk-Atwood — helped shape the outcome of the project. And the Union Corners steering committee helped ensure that their voices were heard.

“[The steering committee] represents the neighborhood’s concerns to Gorman,” former Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway, a member of the steering committee, said after the meeting, “and helps them understand what they were hearing from the neighborhood. And ultimately, I think, get them to a place where the neighborhood is much more supportive of where it was initially.”

Gorman was pleased with the support from the neighborhood and proud of the collaborative effort that went into the final plan.

“It’s never easy, and it’s never quick, but this is a large project; it’ll have a 100-year-impact, not just on this immediate neighborhood, but the city. So having done something that all of us are going to be proud of, that’s worth going through a little more of a process,” Gorman said after the meeting.

The final version of the general development plan will be presented to the Urban Design Committee on May 7 at 4:30 pm in the Madison Municipal Building. If approved, the next step will be to create a “Specific Implementation Plan” focusing on the design elements.

If all goes according to plan, ground will be broken on the UW Clinic this fall.

Have a Steampunk Stay at the Brewhouse Inn and Suites

The six copper brew kettles that once were the heart of America’s largest brewery went silent 17 years ago in Milwaukee. The Pabst Brewhouse, known as building #20, a towering monolith on the city’s skyline for over a century, was left to decay.

Today, however, there’s life in the place that made Pabst Blue Ribbon a household name. In late April, the Brewhouse Inn and Suites opened in the historic building.

I had to be one of the first to stay there. So I booked a room just after it opened. “It’s as much of a museum as a hotel,” says general manager Pete Northard.

The hotel is on the western edge of downtown, with views of downtown Milwaukee and Lake Michigan. Inside, the huge copper brew kettles and stacks are at the center of a five-story sky-lighted atrium, surrounded by 90 guest rooms.

The main entrance is a floor below what was the main brewery floor. As you register, you’re actually standing under one of the kettles. When I signed in, I glanced upward into the polished insides.

The brewhouse was constructed of Cream City brick in 1882 by some of Milwaukee’s finest masons and ironworkers. At the time, Milwaukee had limited electricity, so the more than 300 windows were needed for light during the brewing process. Today they give nearly every guestroom a view of the city.

At the west end of the Kettle Atrium, a large stained glass window filters in colored light. The window depicts King Grambrinus, the unofficial patron saint of brewers. Rather miraculously, it avoided serious damage while the building sat vacant from 1996 to 2011. (It had been boarded over to protect it from weather and vandalism.)

The massive renovation project lasted nearly two years and cost $20 million. The brewhouse is also on the National Registry of Historic Places, so the developer, Gorman & Company, had to take extra steps to maintain the original integrity of the building while transforming it into a hotel. Gorman was able to take advantage of historic preservation tax credits while working closely with the Wisconsin Historical Society to maintain many original fixtures. The in-room tables and headboards were repurposed from wood salvaged during renovations. The wood is from timber harvested from the Sheboygan area in the 1880s.

The Brewhouse Inn is composed mostly of one- and two-bedroom suites. The sixth, and top, floor includes the Baron suites, each with private terraces and incredible views of the city. Accommodations go for $189-$399 per night.

Each room has a fully equipped kitchenette, including microwave, refrigerator, stove and dishwasher. The decor is based on steampunk, an elaborate take on Victorian technology. A daily continental breakfast is offered in the Blue Room, the brewery’s former break room, where workers once relaxed and enjoyed a beverage directly from beer taps. (Its name comes from the habit of Milwaukee police officers coming by for a beer after their shifts while still in uniform.)

Attached to the hotel is Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub, in what was building #21, the former milling house where the grains were ground before being added to the brew kettles. It has 30-foot-high ceilings and a replica of the original tin ceiling. The restaurant, with its attached beer garden, features a full menu and a modest selection of micro- to big-brewery beers — including, of course, PBR. On Brewers game days, the pub offers a shuttle to and from Miller Park.

Reservations have exceeded initial projections, and include many beer-oriented tourists. Interest from those who enjoy traveling to breweries and searching for local beer has surprised Northard, who says the project was designed more with the extended-stay corporate guest in mind.

“We definitely underestimated that when a brewery festival or beer event is going on, they all want to say with us,” he says. “I didn’t know that such a subculture existed, and there are a lot more of those guests out there than you would believe.”

I wondered what founder Capt. Frederick Pabst might say about the changes to the brewery he built. As a teenager, Pabst landed one of his first jobs as a busboy in a Chicago hotel, so he might feel at home. Northard thinks the Captain is probably smiling about it all: “If it couldn’t be a brewery any longer, I think he would find a hotel a fitting tribute.”

Staying at the Brewhouse Inn is a great way make a brewery history weekend in Milwaukee. Visit the Best Place, once part of the brewery offices, on the opposite corner. Grab a beer in the bar there and take a tour with current building owner Jim Haertel. You’ll walk through much of the building that is yet to be renovated, so it appears as it did in the days leading to Pabst’s closure in 1996. You’ll even get to see the original roll-top desk that Pabst used when he ran the brewery.

The Pabst Mansion was the home of Capt. Pabst. It’s located about a mile up Wisconsin Avenue, west of the Brewhouse Inn. It was built in 1892 and has been meticulously restored. A guided tour is a great way to learn about Pabst’s life. And don’t forget today’s modern craft brewery, Lakefront, which isn’t far from the Inn.

Brewhouse Inn and Suites 1215 North 10th St., Milwaukee, 414-810-3350;