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A.O. Smith project, related infrastructure improvements receive committee nod

A proposed new corporate research center for A.O. Smith and related public-works improvements may provide an underused business park with the jump-start it needs, Milwaukee leaders said Tuesday.

The water-heater and boiler manufacturer A.O. Smith announced plans in May to build a new Corporate Technology Center, which would be used to conduct research into water-heating, water-treatment and air-purification systems and related projects.

The research center, which would be at 11000 W. Park Place, would be the newest building in the city’s Park Place business park, a site bounded by Interstate 41, West Bradley Road, North 10th Street and West Good Hope Road.

Members of the Milwaukee Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee gave their blessing to both the new research center’s development plans and a proposal calling for the city to make various public-works improvements in the business park.

To pay for the infrastructure work, the second proposal would set up a new tax-increment-financing district. In general, TIF districts work by capturing property taxes generated by property-value increases or new construction in a particular area and setting the money aside to finance projects in the same area.

If a new TIF district were approved for the Park Place business park, the money captured would be used to provide:

  • A $125,000 grant for site improvements related to the A.O. Smith project;
  • $300,000 worth of grants or loans that would be used for things like facade improvements or new signs; and
  • $450,000 worth of other infrastructure improvements, engineering and planning work in the district.

The two proposals could help turn things around at an office park that has long been faced with stiff competition from nearby office complexes.

Dan Casanova, senior economic-development specialist at Milwaukee’s Department of City Development, said Park Place presents the largest concentration of office space in the city outside downtown.

Altogether, just short of 60 percent of the park’s available space is used for office or retail purposes. That’s far less than what’s found at similar sites nearby. The Woodland Prime office complex in Menomonee Falls, for instance, is 90 percent occupied.

“So there’s significant competition for Park Place as a whole,” Casanova said.

According to city documents, the office park’s One Park Plaza, known as the west tower, is about 44 percent leased, and Two Park Plaza, also called the east tower, is roughly 65 percent leased. The site’s strip mall, at 10855 West Park Place, has only about 8 percent of its retail space leased.

“I think this is a huge plus,” Alderman Jim Bohl said of the A.O. Smith project and proposed site improvements. “This office complex could certainly use a shot in the arm.”

The development plans for the A.O. Smith project will most likely be taken up next week by the Common Council. But because of governmental procedures and rules, any proposal to set up a new TIF district would have to wait until council officials meet again in September.

Should the A.O. Smith project receive the needed approvals, construction would begin in September. The company would then move into the site about a year later.

Milwaukee-based Irgens Partners is the project’s developer, and Zimmerman Architectural Studios the architect.

The A.O. Smith proposals were far from the only developments that committee members reviewed on Tuesday.

Also on the agenda were plans for the construction of a second hotel wing at the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino on West Canal Street, as well as some proposed tweaks to the designs for the new headquarters that the developer Hammes Co. plans to have built on East Knapp Street.

The Potawatomi project calls for the construction of a 19-story wing, which would be attached to the existing hotel tower and casino. The project would add 119 to 179 rooms, bringing the hotel’s total room count up to as much as 580.

Dave Stroik, president and chief executive of Zimmerman Architectural Studios, one of the project’s designers, said the hotel’s current rooms regularly fill up. He said the Potawatomi particularly needs more suite-style rooms.

Meanwhile, the Hammes Co.’s proposal seeks approval for some minor changes to the development plans for the company’s headquarters project. They call for moving an electrical vault inside the building’s parking garage, changing the finish material used for the building’s dome from zinc-coated copper to mill-finish copper and altering the design of its motor court. City officials first approved development plans for the new $27 million, five-story headquarters this winter.

Following some discussion, the Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee voted Tuesday to send both the Hammes Co. and Potawatomi proposals on to the Common Council with favorable recommendations.

About Alex Zank, [email protected]

Alex Zank is a construction reporter for The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 414-225-1820.

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