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The Evolution of Milwaukee's Former Pabst Brewery Complex

Mitchell Laurren-Ring

When the Pabst Brewery closed its doors in downtown Milwaukee in 1997, it was unclear what would become of the area. It was littered with abandoned buildings and for almost a decade, the area sat largely unused.

Then in 2006, the complex was bought by Joseph Zilber, a philanthropist and real estate mogul, who was nearing age 90 at the time of its purchase. He passed away just a few years later, at the age of 92.

Some wondered why Zilber would take on a project like this so late in life, but he had big ideas for the site now known as The Brewery. He wanted to restore the buildings and make something that Milwaukee could be proud of. Most of all, he wanted to make it a neighborhood.

"When it's all said and done, everything will be cleaned up and it'll be a neighborhood. A neighborhood for people, for homes, apartments. And most of it will be a green neighborhood," said Zilber in a 2007 interview with former Lake Effect host, Jane Hampden. "We hope when we're all done with it, it's gonna be something. It'll be something actually miraculous." 

When Zilber passed away in 2010, the future of The Brewery seemed unclear. There was still a lot to be done.

However, today nearly every building in the complex is in use. The Brewery, which encompasses 7 blocks, has sold or contracted out every building. And it seems that Zilber’s dream of creating a neighborhood is finally coming to fruition.

At this point the project has taken nearly ten years, and still isn't done. Reporter Tom Dayking has been covering the transformation of the former Pabst Brewery site since it first closed its doors. He says one of the issues the site faced was timing. "They start in 2007 and a year later we're practically melting down the economy of the United States and the civilized world as we know it," says Daykin.

The site has also required a lot of cleanup, which has taken some time. 

Still, despite all the problems, exciting new things are coming to the Brewery. The Plan Commission just approved two new apartment developments on the site. The former bottling house has been turned into student housing, which will serve several area schools and opens this fall. And Pabst is returning to the area, and opening up asmall brewing operation this summer. 

Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.