Business owners writing design rules for Milwaukee’s North Avenue lost a prime example of what they want when the Pizza Man building burned Jan. 19.
“The former building was a good, characteristic building of what we want to achieve with new development,” said Jim Plaisted, executive director of the East Side Business Improvement District.
The district has hired an architect to draft development guidelines for the commercial stretch of North Avenue on Milwaukee’s east side. Later this year, Plaisted said, business owners will ask the city to enforce the guidelines.
Surveys of business owners last year showed they want two-story buildings like Pizza Man rather than the single-story structures that dot the corridor. The street, between the 1920s and 1940s, was a hot spot for car dealerships in small buildings.
Those buildings should be replaced, Plaisted said.
“I can tell you stories of about 20 buildings that had car dealerships in them at one point,” he said, “Pizza Man was not one of them.”
The Pizza Man building was two stories with apartments and space for three first-floor shops. It will be hard to replicate the 1927 building, Plaisted said.
“The economics for new construction just can’t add up,” he said. “For the lease prices, for the retail and for the apartments, those were lower-end apartments.
“The leases for the retail were reasonable, mostly because the family that owned it owned it forever.”
There are no plans for the Pizza Man property, said Lida Bieck, property administrator for Glendale-based Bieck Management Co., which managed the building for 20 years. The company is trying to find new housing for the tenants of the 10 apartments in the building, she said.
“We have no idea,” Bieck said. “We just managed the building, and the building is not there anymore.”
One of the top challenges in redeveloping the site is building parking space on such a small property, Plaisted said. The parking requirements were not enforced by either banks or the city when the building was first built, he said.
Parking is a constant challenge in any urban area, said Lynn Sbonik, president of the East Side Association and co-owner of the Beans and Barley restaurant near the Pizza Man building.
“When you develop it, there’s always a greater need for parking,” she said. “So I think it’s always going to be an issue. But we always say this: ‘If people came to shop here, you would have to walk as far as you would if you park at the mall.’”
The eventual redevelopment of the Pizza Man property will offer a first chance to figure out how to make the economics work for the high-density developments North Avenue business owners want, Plaisted said.
“We’re going to have to be really creative from a zoning standpoint and from a property standpoint,” he said, “to get this thing done.”