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Michels Corp. rolls out $100M plan for MKE office office, retail, apartment complex

Michels Corp. is embarking on a $100 million redevelopment of a six-acre riverfront site in Milwaukee's harbor district. The project will be consist of an 8-story office building, a hotel, an apartment complex and retail space. (Rendering courtesy of Rinka Chung Architecture)

Michels Corp. is embarking on a $100 million redevelopment of a six-acre riverfront site in Milwaukee’s harbor district. The project will be consist of an 8-story office building, a hotel, an apartment complex and retail space. (Rendering courtesy of Rinka Chung Architecture)

Michels Corp. rolled out plans on Monday for a $100 million riverfront development in Milwaukee’s Harbor District — a project that could keep crews working through 2020.

The project, called River 1, calls for the redevelopment of six acres at the corner of West Becher Street and 1st Street, a site bordered on two sides by the Kinnickinnic River. The company hopes to break ground on the first phase of the development — an eight-story office tower — this fall and have construction wrapped up in the summer of 2020.

The rest of the project will be developed to meet market demand, and could include two more office buildings, which would be built at the same time. The entire campus could ultimately have 220,000 square feet of office space, 67 units of multi-family housing, nearly 20,000 square feet of retail space, a 103-room hotel, a public plaza and underground parking.

“It’s the hottest neighborhood in Milwaukee,” Tim Michels, vice president of the company, said of the site, which connects Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point, Bay View and Harbor District neighborhoods. “We’re kicking off a great gentrification.”

Gilbane is the construction manager on the project. Rinka Chung Architecture, Wired Properties, the Barry Company and Nation Consulting worked with Michels on the plans.

Michels officials said the site’s proximity to Interstate 94 and General Mitchell International Airport were selling points when they were deciding whether or not to embark on the project. When the work is completed, many of Michel’s employees will be splitting their time between the new office building and various off-site locations, Michels said. To accommodate them, the company plans to build an underground parking lot with nearly 1,000 spaces. He said 400 company employees are expected to work regularly out of the new office.

“River 1 is a visionary development that establishes a new benchmark for the best office and workplace environments, healthy living options and destination retail in the region,” said Matt Rinka of Rinka Chung Architecture.

Michels Corp. plans to have employees in its engineering and marketing departments, as well as others, work out of the top three floors of the eight-story office building. The company may eventually move some employees to the office, but plans to maintain its headquarters in Brownsville, where 1,000 people now work.

To make way for the project, Michels demolished an art deco Milwaukee Fire Department pump house listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building was opened in 1932 and was most recently home to Horny Goat Brewing, which closed in 2015.

Michels said the pump house had deteriorated in the more than two years it sat idle. Water spilled into the building’s foundation despite the company’s repeated attempts to drain it away. Michels officials eventually learned that the building likely wasn’t salvageable.

“It wasn’t possible to keep the water out,” he said. “When we finally got it pumped out enough to get some inspectors in, they said it’ll never meet the safety codes.

“It’ll be sad to see the Horny Goat building gone, but it wasn’t going to work with what we had planned here,” he added.

The city of Milwaukee may also help pay for a riverwalk around the property, perform environmental remediation of public parts of the property — plans call for the construction of a public plaza — and make various improvements to Becher Street.

“What the Michels family proposes on the banks of the Kinnickinnic River adds economic activity, public access to the water and a transformative new investment in the Harbor District,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said in a statement.

Michels Corp. is among the largest utility and transportation contractors in the country, employing 8,000 people.

Even as Michels embarks on this latest development in Milwaukee, the company has also emerged as a big contractor on the $10 billion factory Foxconn Technology Group is building in Mount Pleasant, as well as the reconstruction of a nearby stretch of Interstate 94. Michels Corp. won two contracts this summer on I-94 in a deal worth nearly a quarter-billion dollars combined.

Michels said on Monday that the company’s plans for the Harbor District had been set well before Foxconn announced its intentions to move to Wisconsin.

“We got lucky there,” he said. “But we certainly welcome Foxconn and all the additional opportunity that it brings to Michels and RIVER 1.”

About Nate Beck, nbeck@dailyreporter.com

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

One comment

  1. Handsomeprettyhandsomedr.smith

    Costruction and development are booming in the state under walker and in the nation under trump. Don’t believe your lying eyes come election time when your union stooge bosses tell you how horrible things are under Republican leadership.

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