August 5, 2017 Tom Daykin  Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Milwaukee’s W. St. Paul Ave. transforming from industrial to brewery, offices, galleries

It wasn’t that long ago that much of W. St. Paul Ave., centered at N. 16th St., was marked by empty or underused industrial buildings, many built in the 1920s.

Now, that 10-block stretch is landing several new developments, including a craft brewery, offices for video production and architectural firms, a fitness studio and separate galleries for selling fine art and antiques.

Those businesses amount to an investment surge along W. St. Paul Ave. over the past year or so. They are part of the larger, long-term redevelopment of Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley, which includes new plans for extending the city’s RiverWalk there.

“It’s a lot on the street,” said Corey Zetts, executive director of Menomonee Valley Partners Inc., which leads valley development efforts.

One of the latest projects is Plum Moving Media’s conversion of a two-story building at 1418 W. St. Paul Ave. into its new offices.

Plum, which produces videos for employee training, marketing and other corporate functions, will move from 316 N. Milwaukee St. in the Historic Third Ward to the 13,000-square-foot building by Sept. 1, said owner Richard Schwig.

The new location will provide room to grow for Plum, which has 22 employees.

The business has leased offices for several years in the Third Ward, and Schwig has long wanted to move to a larger space. A Plum affiliate bought the St. Paul Ave. building two years ago for $550,000 and has invested $1.5 million in the project.

Schwig was attracted to the building in part because he saw St. Paul Ave. property owners cleaning up their buildings and making other improvements.

“We recognized this area was right on the edge of starting to grow,” he said. “You could see all the pieces starting to fall into place.”

Plum’s future office originally housed Milwaukee Casket Co. and was later the home of Action Heating & Cooling Inc. before that business moved out.

The building’s restored interior features include wooden flooring, Cream City brick and doors from an adjacent garage that was demolished.

“We wanted to maintain as much as we could from the old building,” Schmig said.

Plum sold another neighboring building, 422 N. 15th St., in March for $435,000 to an investment group affiliated with architectural firm Christopher Kidd and Associates LLC. 

That three-story, 13,300-square-foot former warehouse is being renovated into a design studio and offices for the architectural firm, which will lease 7,000 square feet. The remaining space will be marketed to other businesses.

The firm, which will keep its Menomonee Falls headquarters, plans to complete the renovations by February, Kidd said.

The $1.2 million project will help the firm attract younger employees who want to live and work in Milwaukee, he said. It will house about 10 employees.

Just one block away, BrewCity CrossFit plans to move in September to around 11,000 square feet within a 20,000-square-foot industrial building at 1601 W. St. Paul Ave.

The business, which provides classes in weightlifting, gymnastics and other fitness activities, is now at the Grand Avenue mall.

BrewCity started in 2011 at a former industrial building in Walker’s Point. It was forced to move to a temporary location at Grand Avenue because the Walker’s Point building’s upper floors were converted to apartments — whose residents complained about noise from the fitness center.

BrewCity won’t face that problem on W. St. Paul Ave., where zoning codes ban residential use.

Also, BrewCity will again be in a redeveloping neighborhood, said owner Dan Noonan.

“Having more things in that area helps us,” Noonan said.

Other new businesses coming to the street include an art gallery at 1635 W. St. Paul Ave. and Riverview Antique Market, which is moving to 2045 W. St. Paul Ave.

The art gallery, along with space for art production and storage, will occupy much of the five-story, 71,100-square-foot building, according to an occupancy permit issued by the city.

The former industrial building is owned by a group led by John Shannon, which bought the property in 2014 for $650,000. Most of the building’s recent renovations are now apparently finished.

Shannon declined to comment on his plans until they are final. He and his wife, Milwaukee artist Jane Serr, are known for their financial support of local arts groups.

Riverview Antique Market plans to move to a two-story, 10,900-square-foot building that Shannon sold in May for $430,000. That building is undergoing renovations, including new plumbing, electrical and heating systems.

Riverview, operated by Kathy Ippolite, plans to relocate this fall from 175 S. Water St., in Walker’s Point.

Both the antique market and the art gallery fit plans to create a home décor design and showroom district. There are already three home décor companies on the street: Brass Light Gallery, 1101 W. St. Paul Ave.; House of Stone, 1701 W. St. Paul Ave.; and BBC Lighting, 2015 W. St. Paul Ave.

The Common Council and Mayor Tom Barrett last year approved a zoning change to encourage the district’s creation, which was part of the Department of City Development’s updated Menomonee Valley comprehensive plan.

That plan’s vision is helping attract investment to the street, said Zetts, of Menomonee Valley Partners.

That includes Mequon-based commercial flooring firm ProStar Surface Inc., which is moving by Sept. 1 to 8,500 square feet at the Brass Light Gallery building.

The Milwaukee site will provide a more central location for ProStar and is close to architectural firms based in the downtown area that work with the company, said owner Hal Koller.

ProStar, with 10 headquarters employees, focuses on installing basketball courts and other athletic surfaces but might expand into residential flooring. Its projects include the new Milwaukee Bucks training facility’s basketball court.

Also, Zetts’ group is seeking state and federal approval for a historic district on St. Paul Ave. from Brass Light Gallery to the future Riverview Antique Market. That would help developers qualify for state and federal preservation tax credits for renovations to the street’s 22 historic buildings.

“It could really be the turning point,” Zetts said.

Meanwhile, the street is raising its profile with a $2.8 million craft brewery.

Third Space Brewing LLC opened in September at 1505 W. St. Paul Ave., part of the same former industrial complex, now known as Cream City Yards, that will house BrewCity CrossFit. The brewery plans first surfaced in November 2015.

The building’s high ceilings, large open space and older industrial feel create a good fit for Third Space’s 10,000-square-foot brewery, taproom and beer garden, said co-owner Andy Gehl. He also cited the reasonable rent.

In addition, Gehl and co-owner Kevin Wright saw the opportunity of being in a redeveloping area. Gehl likened it to when Lakefront Brewery moved to N. Commerce St. in 1998, before most of that street just north of downtown was transformed.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for development around us,” Gehl said.

The new businesses on St. Paul Ave. are part of the Menomonee Valley’s ongoing redevelopment.

That includes the city’s creation of the Menomonee Valley Industrial Center, a business park with companies that have over 1,400 employees; the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, which on Monday received Common Council approval for a major expansion; the Harley-Davidson Museum; and smaller projects, such as the new City Lights Brewing Co.

Also, city officials in July approved a proposal to extend Milwaukee’s RiverWalk into the Menomonee Valley.

The extension could eventually run about 1 mile from the confluence of the Milwaukee and Menomonee rivers, near N. Water and E. Seeboth streets, to Three Bridges Park, beneath the S. 27th St. viaduct.