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Opposition heats up against coffee roaster’s bakery

By Sean Ryan

Neighborhood opposition to an Alterra Coffee Roasters Inc. bakery in the middle of a Milwaukee retail area could hamstring three other company projects.

Milwaukee-based Alterra is seeking city support to borrow $7.8 million for the four projects. The city would not loan money to the company, but with Milwaukee’s backing, Alterra could get a lower interest rate for project bonding.

The largest of the projects is an estimated $4 million renovation and expansion of a vacant bank on a busy corner on Kinnickinnic Avenue. But local concerns about using the site for a bakery, rather than for retail, could delay city approval of all of the bonding.

Those city bonds also would support an estimated $750,000 renovation, which is under way, of Alterra’s offices on Prospect Avenue, said Lincoln Fowler, a partner in Alterra. The longer the city waits to approve the bonds, the more work Alterra does on Prospect Avenue without the low-interest loan, Fowler said. If the interest rates are higher, the company will have less money to spend on construction, he said.

Whatever savings the company gets by borrowing through low-interest city bonds will be invested back into the projects, resulting in better buildings, Fowler said.

“The more we wait,” he said, “the less of this package we can put together.”

But businesses on Kinnickinnic prefer retail, and Alterra’s bakery is designed only to provide bakery items to Alterra shops. Greg Mertens, secretary/treasurer of the Wild Flour Bakery, which has a shop near the project site, said he supports Alterra’s project “in the proper building, but not that building.”

“We don’t quite understand,” he said, “This is a high-retail corner.”

Mertens said he does not fear competition from Alterra, but would rather have the proposed bakery site reopen as a bank or other retail use.

“If they want an industrial site,” he said, “there are so many industrial sites available in Milwaukee.”

Mertens and Doug Maierhafer, vice president of East Side Ovens, which also is on Kinnickinnic, on Tuesday asked the city to delay consideration of the project so neighborhood residents can weigh in.

Any delay will cost Alterra, Fowler said. The city bonds can be used only for work performed within 60 days before Common Council bond approval.

Alderman Tony Zielinksi, who represents the Kinnickinnic area, requested a delay in a city committee’s consideration of the project Tuesday, but backed off after Alterra agreed to present its plans to the neighborhood April 12. If the neighborhood does not support the project, Zielinski said, he may oppose the bonds when the Common Council considers the request April 13. That would delay approval at least 19 days until the council meets May 4.

“It could be a great project,” Zielinski said. “I don’t know. I want my constituents to have the opportunity from the get-go.”

Alterra must get city rezoning approvals for the building, Fowler said, and residents will be invited to review and provide input on the project before Alterra seeks rezoning.

“We’re looking at the entire neighborhood,” he said, “and how our project will fit best into that type of neighborhood.”


  1. I believe the other bakers are concerned that Alterra will indeed open at least part of the building as a retail facility. I can’t imagine why they would not.
    So, the problem isn’t the industrial use of the building, but the possibility it could represent a competitive threat.
    That’s the feeling I got from that hearing.


  2. In response to Michael Horne: No… we, at least, will not be impacted by competition from Alterra. East Side Ovens is a wholesale bakery that delivers to mostly grocery stores regionally. Bay View residents know us as “the little bakery on the corner that’s never open.”

    As residents of Bay View who live, work, shop, and own a business in Bay View, we would like to see more diversity in goods and services, not less, to continue to make Bay View a destination for retail shopping. We also believe that the community must be given some time to deliberate on this proposal, not have something rushed through without community consideration, as Ald. Zielinski mentioned.

    Hopefully the neighborhood meeting about this topic – April 12th, Monday, at 6:30pm (Bay View Library?) – will be informational.

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