Urban Milwaukee


At the dedication of 100-unit market-rate apartment building at the former Pabst Brewery, mayor hopeful for continued growth of downtown housing.

By Michael Horne, Urban Milwaukee, August 13th, 2015

MILWAUKEE - There was a time that when you referred to a city’s “Tipping Point,” you were talking about a catalytic event that led to a community’s decline. Today, the phrase, as applied to the City of Milwaukee, has a different connotation, says Mayor Tom Barrett.

“Milwaukee is at a tipping point,” he told a group of 50 people gathered Wednesday at the dedication of the Frederick Lofts, 840 W. Juneau Ave. “Not a negative tipping point, but a positive tipping point.”

The 100-unit apartment building was developed by Gorman & Company, Inc. at the east end of the former Pabst Brewery.

Prior to the purchase of the long-vacant brewery site by the Zilber Group, “there was no reason to come here,” the mayor said. In fact, the place was so desolate that “even the bad guys wouldn’t come here,” he added.

But today, “what is happening literally before our eyes are young people and the young at heart coming downtown. It’s a national phenomenon,” the mayor said. “Downtown is 3.6% of the landmass and 18% of the tax base” of the city, he said.

As if on cue, the sidewalks outside began to fill with workers from downtown office buildings as they left work, heading to their homes, some in The Brewery neighborhood itself. Gorman & Company developed the adjacent Blue Ribbon Lofts apartment building out of the former Pabst Keg House. In addition, Gorman developed the Brewhouse Inn & Suites one block west. The new development is immediately south of the Brewery Point Apartments, a senior living community.

Ald. Bob Bauman, whose 4th district represents that 18% of the city’s tax base, and is the focus of its tipping point, joked that “groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings are getting routine.”

Ted Matkom, the Wisconsin Market President for Gorman, said the site “was the poster child for blight in Milwaukee.” He recounted the failed attempt to turn the area into an entertainment district that would have required the demolition of many buildings. Such entertainment districts did not survive the great recession, he said. After that effort failed, Joe Zilber declared that the Pabst site “was going to be my legacy.”

Things were tough at first, Matkom said. Some 30 restaurateurs turned down a chance to open what is now Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub at the Brewhouse Inn & Suites, including what he called “all the big players.” Today, Jackson’s, run by Mark Zierath, who was in the audience (and who catered the event) “is killing it!” Matkom said. The Blue Ribbon Lofts, dating to 2008, are “100% occupied,” he said. The 90-room hotel has some of the top rates in the city,” and hopes are high for the Frederick Lofts.

As Bauman noted, the location is a success despite being in sight of the County Jail and a state secure detention facility.

John Kersey, the Zilber Group Vice President said “We would not have imagined market-rate housing when we started this thing.”

Today, market rate at the Frederick Lofts starts at $1,350 for studios and $1,790 for a two bedroom unit.

Three models were on display, and I toured them with Gary Gorman, the president of the firm that developed and owns the property. This is 100% new construction, with high-end features like granite countertops and floor-to-ceiling windows. A live-work unit of 696 square feet has a sliding partition that separates the work unit, accessible from the street, from the live unit. For those eager go-getters who like to bound out of the bedroom and straight into the kitchen for a hearty breakfast, there is no door between the two rooms to slow things down.

Gorman noted the floors of the units, which are uniform throughout, and consist of a wood-grain pattern and texture. The material is described in the sales material as “luxury hard surface plank in natural wood,” but it is a vinyl type product. Gorman says from experience, he has to replace carpets every three years, and this material should be more durable. I would rather it express its inner vinylness rather than masquerade as wood, and I found the texture to be unnecessary.

Among the attendees was Jim Haertel, who owns Best Place across the street. He now has 35 employees. His wife Nancy says their facility is nearly completely booked for 2016, including for the wedding of Urban Milwaukee CEO Jeramey Jannene and Alison Peterson and is now taking reservations for 2017. One of the couple’s favorite weddings of 2015 was that of Ald. Nik Kovac and Grace Fuhr in July, where guests arrived by bicycle. Dan McCarthy, who was instrumental in the development of the project, (and was on the wrong side of the Pabst City plan) was there as was banker Jon Mulcahy. Also in attendance was Joy Smith, a resident of the Blue Ribbon Lofts who writes a neighborhood newsletter.

The building has a nice rooftop deck with a kitchenette, and a number of people were gathered there during the event. The building has a partial green roof of sedum that looks in fine shape for a recent installation. The bioswales outside seem to have done their work during recent heavy downpours, as evidenced by the line of silt seen on some of the plants there.

The final word on the tipping point came from the mayor, who said “my wife wants to move downtown!” Barrett says that may happen soon, once the kids are out of the house.

The Brewery’s 100-Unit Frederick Lofts

By , UrbanMilwaukee.com, May 8th, 2015

Not so many years ago, the Pabst Brewing Complex was a ghost town at all hours of the day. The abandoned brewery, which abruptly closed its doors in 1997, served as a highly visible reminder of Milwaukee’s industrial past, looming over Interstate 43 with unused smokestacks and silos. Then in 2006, Joseph Zilber stepped in to buy the complex, rebranding it “The Brewery” and set out to build an entire neighborhood within it.

Gorman & Company has been an important partner of Zilber Ltd in the creation of The Brewery. The Oregon, Wisconsin-based firm has developed the 90-room Brewhouse Inn & Suites hotel in the former brewhouse building and the 95-unit Blue Ribbon Lofts apartments in the former keg house. With many of the historic structures renovated (or in the process of being so), Gorman has now started developing new buildings in the area.

Gorman’s 100-unit Frederick Lofts apartment building is scheduled to open this summer at the northeast corner of W. Juneau Ave. and N. 9th St. The privately-financed project will feature exclusively market-rate apartments. The project is named after Pabst namesake Captain Frederick Pabst. From 1875 to 1892 Pabst lived in a home on the site. Prior to that (and before mechanical refrigeration) tunnels were installed underneath the site to keep beer cold; construction crews found those tunnels on accident last April.


This residential project will take advantage of the recently rebuilt W. Juneau Ave., which was converted from a street designed for beer delivery trucks to a more human-scaled boulevard like Broadway in the Historic Third Ward.

Residents of the project will be able to park in an underground parking facility or in a surface lot behind the L-shaped building.

Frederick Lofts residents might soon find themselves with new neighbors as the new owners of the Milwaukee Bucks are seeking to build their own neighborhood just east of the The Brewery in the Park East corridor.


Forest Home Library Replacement Decided, Mill Road Deferred

By Michael Horne, Urban Milwaukee, Dec 18, 2014

The Forest Home branch of the Milwaukee Public Library would move to a historic building, according to a vote by the Board of Trustees of the Milwaukee Public Library on Wednesday, December 17th.

The winning proposal by Gorman & Co / Mitchell Investment Properties VJS Construction calls for replacing the Forest Home branch library with a location in the historic Hill building at 930 W. Mitchell St.

The alternative plan under consideration, advanced by Cardinal Capital Group / Journey House, called for new construction on S. Cesar Chavez Drive. That proposal drew considerable community support at a public hearing held by the library’s Building Committee at the Forest Home Library on Tuesday, December 2nd.

However, it had many more moving parts than the relatively straightforward Mitchell Street proposal.

The Cardinal Capital / Journey House plan called for the demolition of an existing dental office building on the busy shopping street and replacing it with the library and coffee shop at the street level. In addition, it called for the development of subsidized housing above as well as rather inexplicit investments in properties in the immediate neighborhood. The proposal had the support of Ald. Jose Perez, whose district encompasses both of the proposed locations.

The Gorman proposal offered a nearly move-in-ready building, market rate apartments, and Historic Tax Credits.

The Gorman plan, too, has a number of parts, but they are well greased. The Historic Tax Credit program has proven to be a most effective lubricant when you’re fracking for capital.

But you need a historic building first to mine this golden egg, and a demolished Dental Associates clinic would not fit the bill.

The building committee, when it earlier considered the proposals, did not meet a resolution of the matter, and it came before the full board, although both proposals had been declared dead by some reports.

The 12 member library board is chaired by John Gurda, who took time after the meeting (writing from the library) to share these comments with Urban Milwaukee readers about the board’s decision:

“… We approved Gorman & Co’s. proposal to replace the Forest Home branch with a new library on the first floor of the Hill Building and market-rate apartments above. Simply put, there’s a lot to like about the project. The Hill Building has great bones, and it’s on the National Register, with ample dedicated parking and a prominent location on Mitchell Street, the South Side’s downtown since the late 1800s. The building is also literally across the street from one of the largest parochial grade schools (St. Anthony’s) in the country, and the use of historic preservation tax credits will enable us to get more library for our money. When you put it all together, this is going to be a genuinely catalytic project that will bring Third Ward-caliber energy to the heart of the South Side.”

Brooke VandeBerg, the Communications and Marketing Director for the library, said the board also made these conclusions about the Gorman proposal:

The Gorman project:

•​Has now clearly defined the second use for the development with market rate housing, which is complementary to a library and a catalytic project for the area.

•​Is proposed for a location (930 W. Mitchell St.) that is central to the service area, in a prominent business district and allows for parking when using the facility

•The project can move expeditiously and be completed within a short time frame. The library and apartments can be developed simultaneously; and,

•The developer has a secure funding strategy and will pursue Historic Tax Credits for the entire project. ​


The board made the right decision, in my opinion. The Journey House proposal helped put the urgency of redevelopment of S. Cesar E. Chavez Dr. in the forefront, as has the Urban Placemaking initiatives of Newaukee, including an artist-in-residence for the street. But the project it proposed for the site seemed to have too many variables, imponderables and contingent pieces.

But put together, they demonstrate the need for investment in that commercial corridor. Perhaps just not in a project anchored by a library branch.

The Gorman proposal will provide an anchor for the Mitchell Street commercial district, which, at its heyday, was as vital as any in the nation.

The library board also expressed guarded interest in a proposal for the redevelopment of the Mill Road branch.

According to VandeBerg:

Motion was made and adopted to express interest in the proposed concept presented by Maures Development/Common Bond/Engberg Anderson developer team for the redevelopment of Mill Road library at 7717 W. Good Hope Rd. Before a final decision is made the Board directed staff to:

•​Seek more input about the suggested second use through community meetings hosted by local Aldermen;

•Ensure that the city-owned parcel (7717 W. Good Hope Rd.) is viable for both a library and housing as a second use.

•Review the results of a developer’s market study and environmental study for the feasibility of both affordable housing and market rate housing on the site, and review the 2008 Department of City Development Northwest Side Area Plan.

•Meet with local Aldermen and report to the Board on the findings.

One Other Matter to be Decided:

It occurs to me we are going to have two branch libraries in desperate need of new names, since neither will be located on its eponymous thoroughfare in the future.

“Good Hope Library” might be a good fit, especially since it has a rather uplifting lilt to it.

“Mitchell Street Branch” does have a certain authority to it, as well. But there may be other than street name choices available.

This might be a good community involvement project. Or, perhaps we could monetize it.

Is the city ready to sell naming rights for public buildings? Here might be the chance! How about La Biblioteca El Rey. Come up with something better, if you can.