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Wauwatosa residents want campus, preservation

(Image courtesy of UWM)

(Image courtesy of UWM)

By Sean Ryan

Wauwatosa residents want the economic boost of a university campus without changing a prized parcel of green space. But the developer of the proposed University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus and preserve says they can’t have both.

“If we don’t do it here, it probably will not get done,” said David Gilbert, president of the UWM Real Estate Foundation Inc.

He said the plan to build a campus is unlikely to work anywhere but the 89 acres of mostly undeveloped land east of Highway 45, north of Watertown Plank Road and south of Swan Boulevard.

Dan Sidner, a Wauwatosa resident and restaurant owner, is one of many city residents who support the campus plan but don’t want the proposed project site developed. The site contains five historic buildings owned by Milwaukee County, and Wauwatosa residents enjoy it as park space.

“This particular property is pretty special,” Sidner said. “At the end of the day, I think I’d say I don’t support the project in that location, but it would be a shame for Wauwatosa to lose it too. I think there are other options.”

The UWM foundation is requesting Wauwatosa zoning approval to develop an estimated 1.1-million square feet of buildings on 59.5 acres. The project, estimated to cost $250 million, includes housing, university buildings and a business park for companies whose products relate to UW-Milwaukee research.

The proposed location is near the Milwaukee County Research Park. Sidner suggested the UWM foundation look into building one or two high-rises on vacant land in the Milwaukee County Research Park instead of building on the undeveloped land.

“There seems to be a lot of space,” he said, “and I appreciate the scope of the project is significant, but I think we’d be better served building a tall building.”

Gilbert said the county park does not offer enough land to build numerous research and campus buildings, and that a high-rise is functionally and financially out of the question. The campus is intended to help university researchers collaborate with each other and with employees of technology companies.

Functionally, it would work better if they are in neighboring buildings and passing each other on sidewalks, as opposed to being on separate floors of a tall building, he said.

Financially, Gilbert said, one tall building would not work. The campus buildings are to be developed over years, perhaps decades, he said, as the university builds up its research programs.

“You wouldn’t want to build a building and have a massive complex,” Gilbert said, “and have half of it be empty for decades.”

Instead of building on the undeveloped Wauwatosa site, the UWM foundation should try to redevelop a vacant industrial property or contaminated land in the region, said Elterine Jankowski-Biggers, a Milwaukee resident who spoke during a Wauwatosa public hearing on the project Tuesday night.

“UWM has the opportunity to take a blighted property and turn it into something special,” she said, “rather than take something special and blight it.”

Gilbert said the foundation chose the undeveloped site primarily because of its location. The project’s success hinges on being close to the county research park and other nearby research institutions, such as the Medical College of Wisconsin, he said. The site creates the potential for partnerships that would raise the profile of the campus and business park, he said.

“If we’re not going to be right there with the clinical research,” Gilbert said, “there’s really no point in doing it anywhere else in the region.”

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