The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

NEW MIXED-USE LIBRARY TO HELP REINVIGORATE MITCHELL ST.

By Bill Glauber, Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, September 2, 2015

Nancy Bush (right) helps Mixtli Murillo, 6, with a snack at an open house for people to learn about a new Milwaukee Public Library branch that will open in the historic Hills building at S. 9th St. and W. Historic Mitchell St.

MILWAUKEE – Right now, it’s just open space on the first floor of the gracious Hills building in the heart of a historic neighborhood on Milwaukee’s near south side. But by late 2016 or early 2017, there will be books, computers and furnishings in a 21st-century library that will be designed to serve as an educational and neighborhood anchor at 906-910 W. Historic Mitchell St.

On Wednesday, the public was invited to an open house to tour the site and offer suggestions for the future home of the Milwaukee Public Library branch. When completed, the Mitchell St. facility will replace the near half-century-old branch at 1432 W. Forest Home Ave.The new library is part of a trend in Milwaukee of replacing old brancheswith new ones that are part of mixed-use developments.

In mixed-use development, retail shopping is often placed on the first floor with housing on the upper floors. The city has tweaked the model by putting libraries at street level with housing above. The Mitchell St. library will be topped by 57 market-rate apartments.

“We are on the leading edge nationally of using a mixed-use model for library development,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said.

The model — already used at the East Branch and Villard Square — enables the city to get more bang for its buck. By 2020, six Milwaukee libraries will be mixed-use facilities.

“We are really proud of the fact that at a time when resources are strapped we continue to invest in the libraries,” Barrett said.

Gorman Co. is the developer of the $10.4 million project, which includes $4.4 million in city funding for the library. The firm is applying for state and federal historic tax credits. The apartments will be designed by Quorum. Architectural firm HGA will design the new 16,000-square-foot library. There will be an attempt to blend the old with the new.

The building, constructed in 1919 as the Hills Department Store, is on the National Register of Historic Places. It retains architectural flourishes, including decorative features at the top of columns, historic stair railings and a mezzanine.

“Those are things you just can’t duplicate in a new building,” said Jane Dedering, associate vice president of HGA. Dedering said modern libraries need flexible spaces to cater to multiple uses and patrons who range from toddlers to seniors.

“Daylight is huge,” she said. “And really connecting with the community is important so it doesn’t feel generic.”

Sam McGovern-Rowen, Milwaukee’s library construction project manager, said people constantly ask “what do we need libraries for? Part of the thing we need them for is they’re town halls of the neighborhood, a gathering place, a community center.”

The Mitchell St. site sits nearby the St. Anthony School of Milwaukee and is within walking distance of South Division High School. The library will serve one of the youngest and most diverse communities in the city.

“We want the kids in this city to be using our libraries both in the summer and after school,” Barrett said.

Paula Kiely, director of the Milwaukee Public Library, said the Mitchell St. facility is “going to be a real jewel.”

Laura Gutierrez, vice president of academic affairs at St. Anthony School, said that as an educator “it’s phenomenal” to have the library coming to the new location.

“I want every resource to prepare the students academically, and resources for the workforce,” she said.

Julio Maldonado, of the Cesar Chavez Business Improvement District, said he was eager to see the library serve as a community space for everything from children doing their homework to providing an incubator for entrepreneurs.

Adam Carr, an artist who collaborated on a “Listening to Mitchell” project, said “people want something alive again” in the space.

“Mitchell Street is where the south side happened,” he said.

And a library, Carr said, is a place that can lead Mitchell St. into a new era.

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.

Pabst apartments site sells for $1.4 million

By Tom Daykin, The Journal Sentinal, March 18, 2014

A planned apartment site at downtown Milwaukee’s former Pabst brewery has  been sold to a developer for $1.4 million.

The 1.3-acre site, at 810-840 W. Juneau Ave., was sold to Frederick Lofts  LLC, an affiliate of Oregon, Wis.-based Gorman & Co., by Brewery Project  LLC, according to state real estate documents recorded Monday.

Gorman in August announced it would develop a four-story building with  100 high-end units, known as Frederick Lofts, at that site. Construction is to  begin this spring, with the building completed by spring 2015.

This will be the third development Gorman has done at the former Pabst  complex, now known as The Brewery.

Gorman converted the former keg house into the 95-room Blue Ribbon Lofts  apartments, 901 W. Winnebago St., and converted the former brewhouse and  millhouse into the 90-room Brewhouse Inn & Suites hotel, 1215 N. 10th  St.

 

Tax credits revive historic renovations

By:  Tom Daykin, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, February 8, 2014

Jim Haertel was considering the financing options for expanding his tavern at  downtown Milwaukee’s former Pabst brewery.

His decision was made much easier when state officials quadrupled the value  of a tax credit given to developers of historic preservation projects.

“We were on the fence,” Haertel said. “And suddenly that tipped the scales  toward definitely wanting to go for the credits.”

He is among several owners of historic buildings who are tapping the  increased tax credits, which are expected to cost state taxpayers millions of  dollars. The new credit level took effect Jan. 31, following the 2013  approval by the Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker.

The new law raised the state income tax credit to 20% of the qualified  remodeling costs of historic commercial buildings, doubling it from 10%. The  Legislature passed the bill in October, just months after the credit was  increased from 5%. The state credit supplements a federal program that provides  tax credits for 20% of such costs.

The state tax credit’s boost received bipartisan support. Advocates said the  credit increase was needed to help Wisconsin compete with other states for  investor funding of preservation projects, which are more costly than new  construction. In return for the credits, developers follow federal rules on  preservation remodeling techniques and materials.

According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, 31 states provide  historic preservation tax credits. Most of those credits are in the 20% to 25%  range for commercial restoration projects.

Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which operates the state program, has  seen increased interest from developers with the higher credit taking effect,  said Mark Maley, the group’s public information manager.

The higher credit may help attract national historic preservation development  firms to Wisconsin, said Milwaukee Development Commissioner Rocky Marcoux.

It also could help bring to life commercial preservation projects that  otherwise would have languished because of feasibility concerns, he said.

“It’s a move in the right direction,” Marcoux said.

That higher credit level could be especially valuable for smaller projects,  said Matt Jarosz, an associate adjunct professor at University of  Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Architecture and Urban Planning. He’s organizing  a March 28 workshop about the state and federal tax credits.

“In the past, small projects just weren’t worth the complexity of the tax  credit program,” Jarosz said. “Moving to the 40% zone can start to make it  possible.”

Rebuilding history

Milwaukee historic developments under consideration include the possible  conversion of the upper floors of a downtown building into market-rate  apartments, Maley said.

The seven-story Posner Building, 152 W. Wisconsin Ave., features Mo’s Irish  Tavern on parts of the first and second floors, but is otherwise largely  vacant.

Kyle Strigenz, co-owner of HKS Holdings LLC, which is considering the  redevelopment plan, declined to comment, saying it was too early to discuss the  possible project. The Milwaukee firm has done other historic preservation  projects, including last year’s conversion of the former JH Collectibles  clothing factory into the 50-unit Junior  House Lofts, 710 S. Third St.

Another proposal on downtown’s west side would convert the Germania  Building, 135 W. Wells St., into 78 apartments, along with 14,000 square  feet of street-level commercial space. The developers, Endeavour Corp. and  Vangard Group LLC, have declined to comment on that proposed project, which  could combine tax credits for both historic preservation and affordable  apartments.

At the Pritzlaff  Hardware Co. complex, at W. St. Paul and N. Plankinton avenues, developer  Ken Breunig is continuing his restoration project and plans to use the higher  state tax credits. Portions of the buildings have been converted into offices  and banquet rooms, and Breunig is proceeding this year with plans to restore  additional space for commercial use.

“It has definitely helped make the numbers work,” Breunig said.

At the former Pabst complex, now known as The Brewery, Chicago-based Blue  Ribbon Management LLC hopes to begin work this spring on converting the former  Pabst bottling  house into apartments marketed to international students at Marquette  University, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and other area colleges.

The increased state tax credits “will be a great help” in financing that  development, along with plans to convert a nearby former church into commercial  space, said Tom Gehl, Blue Ribbon Management chief executive officer.

Haertel is adding around 6,000 square feet of banquet space at the former  Pabst brewery’s visitors center and offices, known as Best Place at the Historic  Pabst Brewery, 901 W. Juneau Ave.

Best Place  includes a gift shop, Blue Ribbon Hall banquet room and The Little Tavern on The  Hill. The additional banquet space, converted from an 1880 office building, will  provide an additional room for wedding receptions and other events.

Haertel plans to spend around $750,000, with around $500,000 qualifying for  the preservation credits. Combining the state and federal programs would raise  around $200,000 in tax credits, which Haertel plans to use to reduce his income  tax bill.

A U.S. Small Business Administration loan through First Bank Financial Centre  is providing $670,000 for the project, with Haertel providing around $100,000 in  equity cash. He plans to begin the work in March, and have the banquet room  completed by July.

Cost to taxpayers

Elsewhere in Wisconsin, other projects tapping the higher credits include  separate plans to convert a former Manitowoc factory and a former Madison  seminary into apartments.

Oregon, Wis.-based Gorman & Co. is pursuing the Madison project, which  would create 87 apartments at the Bishop O’Connor Catholic Pastoral Center. The additional tax  credits help attract more equity cash because developers have the option of  selling them to banks and other investors, said company President Gary  Gorman.

“Some of our projects in the pipeline may be more feasible now,” said Gorman,  whose firm’s historic redevelopments include the Brew  House Inn and Suites at The Brewery, at 1215 N. 10th St.

Another project that was already in the works — but now will be easier to  finance — is the proposed redevelopment of a former Mirro Co. factory in Manitowoc into 40 apartments, an $8  million project known as Artists Lofts. Robert Lemke and Todd Hutchison, who  operate Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Redevelopment LLC, are the developers.

The higher credits “really enhance the viability of these projects,” said  Lemke. The firm’s other projects include helping with the planned restoration of  a historic Wauwatosa building into a charter school.

The higher credit comes at a cost for state taxpayers.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimated the credit will cost taxpayers $8.6  million over the next two years, based on the level of past use by developers of  the credit when it was at the 5% level.

The agency also said quadrupling the credit’s value could result in a  significantly higher cost to the state if developers increase their use of the  program.

Supporters say the higher cost amounts to an investment that creates jobs and  higher tax revenues. Lemke also cites another benefit.

“We’re saving these buildings for future generations,” he said.

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Former real estate lawyer Gary Gorman overcomes early challenges to build successful business

By Tom Daykin, Journal Sentinel, September 30, 2013

Gary Gorman was a real estate attorney when he decided he’d rather be a developer, instead of the guy who gives developers legal advice.

Gorman & Co. was launched in 1984. Within a few years the firm was focusing on apartment buildings, aimed at lower income renters, partly financed with federal affordable housing tax credits, along with projects that use historic preservation tax credits. Today, located in the Dane County community of Oregon, the firm has 230 employees, operates dozens of properties in Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida and Arizona, and annually develops apartment buildings and other projects costing around $75 million.

The firm’s Milwaukee-area developments include the new Brew House Inn & Suites, a hotel created at the former Pabst brew house, along with Blue Ribbon Lofts, apartments developed within the brewery’s former keg house. The company also plans for another apartment development at the Pabst complex, now known as The Brewery.

Gorman recently met at the Brew House Inn to talk about his early challenges as a developer — including a partner who was a cocaine addict — how the firm grew, and its new foray into the hotel sector. Here’s an edited transcript of that interview.

Q.How did you become a developer?

A. When I got out of law school (in 1980) I was hired by a firm and promoted by that law firm as somebody who knew something about real estate syndication, which is just a fancy term for putting together a group of investors to do deals. I represented developers and syndicators for four years.

Then they offered me a partnership. And I thought, if I become a partner, then I’m going to stay. And it really wasn’t what I wanted to do. I was more intrigued by the business side. So, June of ’84, I left the law firm. I teamed up with two other guys (including a marketing expert). One guy that was older, more experienced and allegedly had more money.

Q.Did it turn out he didn’t have any money?

A. Well, you’re guessing the rest of the story. Our basic strategy was that we were going to put existing properties under contract, we were going to raise the equity capital by selling limited partnership shares, buy the properties, have somebody else manage them, and then we sell them after five years and take a piece of the profits. That was the idea.

So, within about six months of leaving the law firm, the marketing guy and I started seeing these letters coming in from collection agencies, and dunning letters from banks and other creditors to this older guy. The bottom line is he had this white powder problem that I didn’t know about. Should have done better due diligence. His frequent trips to Jamaica were not just to lay in the sun.

Q.What happened?

A. The marketing guy and I left him and formed our own little shop. And we did one deal in 1985 called Seminary Park Apartments, in Evansville, Wis. It was a small deal, 24 units. It was a historic rehab of abandoned school buildings that had previously been a private school for boys. So it had been empty for a long time.

It was immensely complicated for a small deal, and we probably made about $1.50 an hour. But that created a track record. At the end of that deal, the marketing guy said, “I can’t live like this any more. I never know if we’re going to have the deal, not have the deal. I don’t know if I’m going to have a paycheck.” (So the partner left the firm.)

Q.How did it feel to be on your own?

A. It felt a little lonely. Then tax reform started heating up and it eventually passed in 1986. That changed the tax code completely, and it eliminated a lot of the benefits of investing in real estate. But it created a new tax credit, the affordable housing tax credit. So I thought maybe I could work with that.

Q.Did you just immediately think there’s just unlimited opportunity there?

A. No, God no. I thought: Would this ever work? And who would ever invest seeking this credit? And should I go back and beg my senior partner at the law firm to take me back? All those thoughts were going through my head. And there were times when I literally ran out of money.

I worked with a law firm and an accounting firm to put together four private placements in 1987 that were raising capital for (tax credit) deals that another builder built because I didn’t have the capacity to build anything. It was a lot of work.

I got a call one day (in 1987 from Boston Financial). They had a fund that had raised money to invest in these tax credits, and would I be interested in having that fund invest as the equity investor?

Q.And you said, “Would I?”

A. I kind of held the phone away like, is this really happening? Absolutely, I wanted to.

Q.With the advent of the fund, I assume your life got a lot easier in terms of financing.

A. It did. Trying to find investors that put in $5,000 apiece a year was tough. The first institutional deal was a big break-through.

Q.At what point were you starting to do multiple projects a year?

A. I think we did two a year in ’88 and ’89. (As the firm grew, it added in-house property management and construction divisions. In 1995, it hired Tom Capp, a former Fitchburg mayor who is now Gorman & Co.’s chief operating officer.)

Q.Was adding Tom a turning point?

A. It really was. It added a level of political sophistication that, frankly, I didn’t have. He really knows how to work with city planners, mayors, elected officials, plan commissions. He knew that mentality. He had a greater level of patience with the political process.

Then we started to grow, did more projects. All of the equity was from institutional investors. Then we thought we would internalize the architectural function. We did that in ’99. At that point we sort of had the bones of an integrated development firm. That’s where we are today.

Q.What percentage of your business comes from affordable housing developments?

A. Probably 85%.

Q.How did you first get involved in doing the Brew House Inn & Suites?

A. (During a presentation to some Chinese government officials who were visiting Madison, Gorman was impressed with the interpreter, University of Wisconsin-Madison law student Ying Chan. Gorman hired him as an intern.) I was paying him, but I really didn’t know what he was doing. He was going to seminars here and there, and then he left when he graduated from law school.

He called me about six months later and said that he had been successful raising money through this EB-5 program (in which foreign citizens receive green cards in return for job-creating investments in the United States) for an immigration attorney out of the state of Washington who had never done a development deal before. I said, Ying, if you can raise money for someone who has never done anything before in the development area, it ought to be easy for you to raise money for us.

We had done Blue Ribbon Lofts, and we thought, where can we find another historic (preservation) deal that was of some size? Talking to the Zilber folks (owners of the Pabst complex), they pointed us to this building. The reason it’s a hotel rather than an apartment building is that to attract EB-5 capital you have to create jobs. A hotel and (restaurant) produce a lot more jobs than an apartment building.

Q.You’ve never done a hotel before, right?

A. No, but we have a regional manager, Laura Narduzzi, who’s got 25 years experience (in the hotel industry). I completely defer to her judgment on designing the hotel, running the hotel. I’ve stayed in a thousand of them but I don’t know anything about running them. I’m learning a little bit now, though.

Q.What have you learned?

A. The staffing level is much higher than an apartment building. The service level is huge. You have to have skilled, well-paid people on site, all the time.

Q.Are you making money?

A. We’re doing OK. Is it belching cash? No, not in the early phases. But we’re doing a lot better than our projections showed.

Q.Are you going to do other hotel investments?

A. We have a deal in Kenosha, called Heritage House. It’s a historic building. We’re about to convert that into a boutique historic hotel. I just made a presentation to the mayor of Rockford, Ill., and his staff on a project there that would be a historic hotel combined with a conference center. I made a presentation in Butte, Mont., with a concept of a similar combination of a historic hotel and a conference center. It’s opened up another area for us.

Q.But you’re going to continue to primarily be an apartment developer, right?

A. Yeah, that’s our core competency.

Jackson’s pub at Brewhouse Inn opens for lunch and dinner; brunch starts in June

A month after the Brewhouse Inn & Suites opened in a reclaimed building in the Pabst brewery complex, its restaurant, Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub, is open for business, too.

Jackson’s opened late last week at 1203 N. 10th St. after extensive renovation of the Cream City brick building. The restaurant’s 24-foot ceilings, for example, are covered with tin like that of the original ceiling.

The restaurant still is ramping up: The initial menu was due to expand this week, a week after Jackson’s opened. A late-night menu, served 11 p.m. to midnight weekdays and until 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, starts this week.

Father’s Day will be the restaurant’s first Sunday brunch, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The holiday brunch will be a buffet, but Sundays regularly will have an a la carte brunch menu, said Mark Zierath, who operates the restaurant with his brother, Dan. They also own Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub in Wauwatosa.

The restaurant at the Brewhouse is open daily at 11 a.m. It has a pub menu, with appetizers ($4.99 to $11.99) like fried cheese curds, chicken wings and jalapeño poppers with chile marmalade; salads such as Cobb ($9.99) with jalapeno and bacon; and sandwiches and wraps ($8.99 and $9.99), including a burger and a chicken sandwich on focaccia.
The bar has about a dozen taps, including some state craft beers (as well as Pabst, naturally) and about four dozen brews by the bottle.

Jackson’s has a beer garden seating around 100; musicians will play from 7 to 10 p.m. Fridays on the patio, starting this Friday.

To contact: (414) 276-7271.

Closed Milwaukee school building opens up to seniors

 

Milwaukee County

Closed Milwaukee school building opens up to seniors

Dorothy Barns, a tenant at Sherman Park Senior Living Community, talks about her new digs while in the community room at the new apartment complex. The former Jackie Robinson Middle School has been remodeled into senior housing.

Mike De Sisti

Dorothy Barns, a tenant at Sherman Park Senior Living Community, talks about her new digs while in the community room at the new apartment complex. The former Jackie Robinson Middle School has been remodeled into senior housing.

Sherman Park center provides affordable housing for those 55 and older

By Bill Glauber of the Journal Sentinel
May 28, 2013

Photo Gallery

Once, the hallways were filled with the frenetic energy and excited sounds of children headed to class.

Now, those same hallways are navigated by a group of older adults who bring renewed life and purpose to a stately school building that still bears the name of baseball great Jackie Robinson.

Sherman Park Senior Living Community is up and running, an old Milwaukee Public Schools building converted to affordable rental housing for those 55 and older.

The first residents arrived in September, the 68 units were leased by Christmas, and the facility at 3245 N. 37th St. will have its grand-opening celebration Wednesday.

But already, a community has formed, the newcomers melding into a tightknit group.

“This is heaven for older people,” says one of the residents, Henry Evans.

A $16 million housing development overseen by Gorman & Co. has transformed the old Jackie Robinson Middle School, which was closed in 2005. The 118,754-square-foot school building was constructed in 1926 and served for decades as Peckham Junior High School.

Gorman & Co. purchased the property from MPS for $600,000. Groundbreaking for the rehab occurred in September 2011, and it took nearly a year to complete. The project was financed with the help of federal affordable housing tax credits. Developers that receive those credits agree to lease apartments at below-market rents to those who earn no more than 60% of the area’s median income.

Rents are based on income of the tenants and range from $499 to $694 a month.

Ted Matkom, Gorman’s Wisconsin market president, is delighted with the reception the building has received. He still recalls his first walk-through.

“What stood out was the building was in impeccable shape,” he says. “I couldn’t believe it had been vacant for five years. It was heated, maintained in amazing condition. I thought the entire campus provided an unbelievable opportunity to put a shot in the arm for the community.”

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett called the project “a welcome addition to the neighborhood,” and he lauded Gorman & Co. for adding “homes for seniors in a part of Milwaukee that is a great residential neighborhood.”

“It makes sense to repurpose school buildings that are no longer needed by MPS, and this new use, senior housing, converts this building into a new community asset,” the mayor said in a statement.

Byron Thompson, the property manager, is accustomed to showing people around the building.

“When people are looking for an apartment they bring everyone with them,” he says.

Even though it’s fully rented, the building still pulls in a lot of visitors, only this time, they are officials from other cities, like Chicago, who are keen on seeing the development.

“In American cities there are a lot of schools that have closed,” Thompson says. “You have all this space. What do you do with a school?”

MPS owns 11 empty school buildings, officials say. In addition, one building was transferred to the city and four others were identified as surplus.

In recent years MPS has sold four buildings, leased 13 and reused seven.

Gina Spang, director of facilities and maintenance at MPS, says the old Jackie Robinson school building had the perfect blend of size, location and configuration for a successful resident rehab.

“I think it’s wonderful, a great use of a really solid, functional building,” she says.

The rehab is impressive. Art Burgess, a resident, calls the building “a jewel” and says the atmosphere is “peaceful.”

The living spaces resemble loft units, with hardwood floors, high ceilings, open kitchens and spacious bedrooms.

“The apartments are gorgeous and you have your own washer and dryer,” says Joann Bentley, who moved in with her mother in September.

The old gym has been converted into several apartment units, as well as a hair salon, nurse’s station and arts and crafts room.

There are an exercise room and business center.

And there are fine details that embrace the building’s historic character, with old school lockers and clocks along with display cases filled with school items like film projectors, musical instruments and vinyl records.

The attention to detail includes a wall of historic photographs of the Sherman Park neighborhood and other sites around Milwaukee along with large photos of Robinson from his glory days with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The main gathering place is the old library, turned into a community room, where bingo games are played on Wednesday nights.

And the bookshelves are being filled in book by book, the project overseen by resident Francine Smith, a former MPS employee.

“It’s nice here, the kind of place I’m used to, a school,” Smith says.

The children may be gone, but the building survives with new tenants and a new lease on life.

http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/closed-milwaukee-school-building-opens-up-to-seniors-b9920710z1-209247121.html