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Facade repairs overdue for Milwaukee building

Milwaukee's Department of Neighborhood Services is inspecting a building at 205 East Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee, after a 10-pound piece of facade fell to the ground Tuesday morning. (Staff photos by Kevin Harnack)

By Kirsten Klahn

The downtown Milwaukee building from which a piece of facade fell Tuesday was one week past a city-imposed deadline for exterior repairs.

The deadline stemmed from a July 22, 2010, facade report on the Iron Block Building at 205 E. Wisconsin Ave. The report, prepared by Capstone Engineering Group, Waukesha, identified portions of the exterior that were in need of repair.

One of those areas was the same from which the facade piece, which weighed more than 2 pounds, fell.

On Feb. 28, 2011, an employee from the Milwaukee Department of Neighborhood Services inspected the building and gave the owner one year to bring the exterior into compliance with city code, said Tom Mishefske, the department’s operations manager.

At the time of the report and inspection, Wisconsin 205 LLC owned the building. The listed contact for Wisconsin 205, Sonny Bando, did not respond to requests for comment prior to deadline Wednesday afternoon.

Dental Associates Ltd. of Wisconsin bought the building six weeks ago, said Mark Demsky, an architect for Dental Associates. He said he was not aware of the Feb. 28 deadline for repairs.

“I received no detailed reports,” he said, “but we knew the building obviously needed a lot of work.”

A change in ownership does not affect the deadline or responsibility to repair the exterior, Mishefske said. The facade report should have been brought up in negotiations when the building was sold or the new owners should have found out about it in other ways, he said.

“The new owner could look online, and it would show up on title searches as well,” Mishefske said. “I would hope the owner was aware the report was done.”

Thomas Manos, the contact listed for the Iron Block Building, did not immediately respond to calls before deadline Wednesday afternoon.

Despite the missed deadline, Mishefske said, DNS has not fined the building owner. Unless building owners show they aren’t cooperative, he said, the city usually shows leniency with fines.

“In this case, we’ve been in communication with the owner,” Mishefske said. “They are taking immediate action, and their overall plan is to renovate the building.”

Exterior renovations to the building will begin in spring, Demsky said. Scaffolding will remain up until work is completed, he said.

But the July 2010 report recommended the portion of the building in question be fixed within 12 months. Douglas Ernst, the Capstone engineer who inspected the building for the report, said he determined the building was safe as long as an ordinary repair and maintenance program was done.

“A lot of this isn’t black or white,” he said. “You just have to use your best judgment and your experience.”

Once a facade report is done, there isn’t anything hired inspectors can do to enforce the changes, Ernst said.

“If we make recommendations, the city requires the building owner does submit another report that proves the work was done,” he said. “Within the last year, the city has become a lot more forceful with this.”

The city does not require city inspectors check up on building owners before the compliance deadline, Mishefske said. Once the compliance date is reached, inspectors then contact the owner, he said.

“There is no set time frame for how long we give owner’s once their date hits,” he said. “As long as the owner is moving forward, we try to be flexible.”

Demsky said the Iron Block Building will eventually be restored to its original condition.

“Nothing about the exterior problems was shocking,” he said. “Now we’re going to put it back to the way it was in 1860.”

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