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Developer sees slim chance for road widening

Dave Tomka, a laborer with Wally King Masonry LLC, Milwaukee, assists masons with supplies Tuesday inside the building at 27th and Wells streets in Milwaukee. Hennessy Group Inc. is renovating the three-story structure for offices on the upper floors. (Photo by John Krejci)

Dave Tomka, a laborer with Wally King Masonry LLC, Milwaukee, assists masons with supplies Tuesday inside the building at 27th and Wells streets in Milwaukee. Hennessy Group Inc. is renovating the three-story structure for offices on the upper floors. (Photo by John Krejci)

By Sean Ryan

A possible widening of 27th Street in Milwaukee to promote more development could cut into the property line of a building under renovation.

The city is studying a proposal to more than double the width of 27th Street between Michigan Avenue and Wells Street by adding about 100 feet. The widening could lead to the city acquiring properties, including a building at 27th and Wells streets that Hennessy Group Inc., Milwaukee, is renovating.

But the widening might not happen, said Alderman Robert Bauman, who represents the area.

If I were a betting man, I’d say he’s probably wise to continue with the work,” Bauman said of John Hennessy’s project.

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Hennessy, president of Hennessy Group, said he is aware of the studies for widening 27th Street, but not all of the plans under consideration would dig into his property. He said he does not want to hold off on his more than $1.3 million renovation project based on the chance the city may one day need his land.

“I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Hennessy said. “Right now, I’ve got financing. I’ve got the lease. That’s about all I can say.”

Hennessy’s company is renovating the three-story building for offices on the upper floors. He has a lease agreement for a Subway restaurant on the first floor.

Hennessy said he wants the project to encourage others to redevelop buildings on 27th Street.

Bauman said incremental investments, such as Hennessy’s project and planned streetscape improvements, are fine, but they are not enough to remove the roadblocks to development on 27th. The city, he said, needs larger projects such as widening the two-lane 27th Street west of downtown Milwaukee to ease rush-hour congestion from drivers taking 27th south to Interstate 94.

“Major surgery is required,” Bauman said.

But the 27th Street widening would be more than the city can afford on its own, Bauman said, so the project hinges on Milwaukee receiving state or federal grants. By drafting plans for the project, the city can apply for grants, he said.

A city study of the widening concept estimated rebuilding that section of 27th Street and adding more lanes and a median would cost $5.3 million. Of that, the city would spend $2.2 million acquiring property.

If the city needs land from Hennessy’s property, Bauman said, the land will be worth more after Hennessy finishes the renovation project.

“Sure, make a deal,” Bauman said. “Buy out his interests. Make him whole.”

Hennessy said he does not think that will happen.

“Everything is out there, OK?” he said, “We could have some sort of natural disaster that would knock the building down tomorrow. But I don’t think the probability of that affecting my development is significant at this point in time.”

One comment

  1. Is widening the road really necessary for development. It seems that wider roads tend to hamper downtown development and make areas less pedestrian friendly. Any extra traffic is only traffic that drives through the neighborhood.

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