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WUWM’s Chuck Quirmbach reports on innovation in southeastern Wisconsin.

City Taxpayers May Help Take The Mall Out Of Grand Avenue

Chuck Quirmbach
The former atrium of the Grand Avenue Mall is closed and being renovated.

The city of Milwaukee is saying goodbye to the Grand Avenue Mall. And it appears city taxpayers will help with the switch.

To help redevelop the former mall, $9 million in city of Milwaukee financing is a step closer to being approved. Thursday, the Redevelopment Authority OK'd a tax incremental financing district for a project called "The Avenue." 

Most of the stores and restaurants have moved out of the former mall. The large atrium is closed and reconstruction is underway. What's going in instead is a combination of offices, apartments and a first floor food hall of about 20 vendors. 

It's at least a $53 million project for the company Interstate Development Partners, led by Tony Janowiec. He told the Redevelopment Authority that the partly-done project is already setting the stage for rising property values. 

"With no public assistance, no public investment, we've already invested and created what is going to be a substantial increment in the tax value of the Plankinton Building," Janowiec says.

Credit Chuck Quirmbach
Developer Tony Janowiec speaks to the Redevelopment Authority on Thursday.

Janowiec is asking for $9 million in public assistance, via a tax incremental finance district. Under TIF's or TID's, city funds help build a project and then the government is eventually paid back through higher property taxes. City of Milwaukee Economic Development Specialist Dan Casanova says the taxpayer help for The Avenue is justified.

"One of the main challenges with this building is the amount of public space throughout the entire complex — that isn't rentable square footage — is open to the public even though it's on a private property. So, to renovate that, and relocate that, was a substantial cost that there is no tenant paying back those costs," Casanova says.

Credit Chuck Quirmbach
This photo of a slide shown Thursday depicts part of the exterior of The Avenue.

This would hardly be the first time the city has helped the mall area. But Casanova says The Avenue project is different.

"This proposal, to use the developers term, is 'de-malling' the property. Basically, it's not going to be a mall anymore. It's going to be a series of just regular downtown office buildings that have retail or restaurants on the first floor, which have been successful downtown and across the country," Casanova explains.

The Redevelopment Authority unanimously approved the tax district, but not before Milwaukee resident Marty Wall told the panel it ought to do more for other parts of the city.

Credit Chuck Quirmbach
Milwaukee resident Marty Wall testifies during the public hearing portion of Thursday's meeting.

"If any of you, or the developers, would like to see blight, I was just at Mid-town this afternoon. I was just at Northridge the other day. I just drove down North 76th Street," Wall says.

The proposal to help The Avenue will go before the Common Council next month.

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Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.
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