South Milwaukee — South Milwaukee is stepping up with a potential new development for its somewhat struggling downtown with a proposed $6.6 million mixed-use development anchored by a microbrewery.
First proposed at a plan commission meeting Aug. 22, the development envisioned by the firm Vetter Denk, which will seek approval from the city at a Sept. 26 meeting to purchase the land, would be on a 0.74-acre city-owned parcel on the northeast corner of 11th and Madison avenues, near the old train station. Vetter Denk hopes to begin construction in spring 2017.
The idea has been greeted with enthusiasm.
"A microbrewery for me is top priority," said Mayor Erik Brooks. "I can't think of a better development. It'd be a huge hit."
More than beer
In addition to the 5,000 square-foot microbrewery with adjacent beer garden, the project would include 24 market-rate apartments with one-, two-, and three-bedroom offerings, an 8,000 square-foot outdoor green space courtyard for events, and 5,000 square feet of retail space, according to a news release.
When asked what businesses were interested in the space, Brooks said a restaurant would make a lot of sense or "some other small, independent business."
He noted that with the space for retail only totaling about 5,000 square feet, it could end up housing only one retailer. The release states there is "strong interest" in both the microbrewery and retail spaces.
With many vacant storefronts throughout South Milwaukee's downtown already, some may question the need for more retail space.
“We've got vacant spaces downtown for sure," Brooks said, "But we have room, and this raises the energy and profile of all of them. This will drive the rest of downtown to be successful.”
Brooks said the downtown area has been a huge priority for him since being elected and he wants to "bring it back to life," citing empty storefronts and the condition of buildings as the biggest issues.
He called this project a "game-changer for downtown South Milwaukee."
"It is one of the biggest developments in our city center in decades, and it will serve as a catalyst in our ongoing downtown redevelopment efforts," Brooks said.
Vetter Denk has experience with the Beerline riverfront condominiums in Milwaukee as well as working on Green Bay's waterfront. John Vetter, co-owner of Vetter Denk, said the company is "very excited to lead the way in South Milwaukee."
Regarding the choice of site, Vetter said the city's downtown farmers market, which operates on 11th Avenue between Milwaukee and Madison avenues, was a "key factor in choosing this downtown site."
A top official for the downtown market is glad a developer appreciates its value and also applauded the developer's initiative.
“The market feels this is a creative use of these land parcels," said Downtown Market Board Chairwoman Carol Rehak. "We are very pleased that the developers are incorporating the South Milwaukee Downtown Market into the design."
The site is a combination of five parcels purchased by the city in 2008.
This project isn't the only thing going on in downtown South Milwaukee. Streetscaping of Milwaukee Avenue is planned for spring 2017. The city's common council also recently passed a long-range downtown plan as well as an expanded grant program for downtown businesses. In addition, the city is studying the creation of a downtown business improvement district as well as becoming members of a Main Street program to further revitalize the downtown area.
The land is in one of South Milwaukee's four tax incremental financing (TIF) districts created in 2000 and scheduled to last until 2027, according to City Administrator Tami Mayzik.
A TIF district is a specified area where new property tax revenue generated by improvements is reallocated to spur development/investment within the district. According to the release, Vetter Denk plans to seek TIF funding for the project with the amount still being finalized.
Brooks said he expects a "robust debate" on the amount of TIF funding to be allocated for the project, but added "this is the kind of project TIF is made for."
"This is a project that warrants TIF money," he said. "TIF is a tool that cities like ours need to develop challenging sites."
When asked about the long-term future of downtown South Milwaukee, Brooks echoed the city's motto, saying it had a promising future.
“We’re just getting started," he said. "This is not the last chapter in the story.”