Nov 23, 2015 Tom Daykin  Journal Sentinel

Valley industrial buildings find new life as Industrial Buildings

While a lot of Milwaukee’s older industrial buildings are being redeveloped as apartments, offices and retail space, Steve Looft has another idea.

Looft plans to convert three older, long-vacant Menomonee Valley industrial buildings into updated industrial space.

He and his investors are launching the project after securing Third Space Brewing LLC, a start-up craft brewery, as a tenant. And Looft is in discussions with other prospective tenants that reflect a similar mind-set for the neighboring buildings on W. St. Paul Ave., near the 16th St. viaduct.

“It’s going to be the small, upstart manufacturers,” Looft said. “A microbrewery, a guy welding new equipment. They don’t need 100,000 square feet.”

Also, like Third Space Brewing, their younger owners don’t want to be too far from the “cool areas” such as Walker’s Point, he said.

The buildings, vacant for several years, will become what Looft calls “an entrepreneurial industrial park.”

Third Space Brewing plans to open in June in a one-story, 12,000-square-foot building at 1505 W. St. Paul Ave. Third Space is led by Kevin Wright, a Thiensville native who worked six years as a brewer at Hangar 24 Craft Brewery in Redlands, Calif.

Third Space Brewing, owned by Wright and investors group ATG/AB, is financing its $1.58 million start-up with equity funds, a primary loan from First Bank Financial Centre and a $150,000 loan from nonprofit lender Milwaukee Economic Development Corp.

Also, Looft’s development group Cream City LLC, is using equity, a primary loan from BMO Harris Bank and a $325,000 MEDC loan to help pay for buying and renovating the future brewery, a $1.18 million project. Cream City’s other owners are Rick Read, Cindy Read, Dan Read and Don Read.

The Read family owns Readco, a holding company for a metal fabrication and manufacturing firm that bought the buildings in the mid-1980s after the original owner, fabricator Geuder Paeschke & Frey Co., went out of business.

Along with the future brewery, Cream City also plans to redevelop a three-story, 13,000-square-foot building just to the south that shares the 1505 W. St. Paul Ave. address, and a one-story, 30,000-square-foot building at 1601 W. St. Paul Ave. The three buildings are on parcels that total around 2 acres.

Readco also owns a four-story, 62,000-square-foot building, at 324 N. 15th St., that could eventually become part of Cream City’s redevelopment plans, Looft said.

That historic building, constructed in 1890, also was used by Geuder Paeschke & Frey. The company was founded in 1880, and was known for producing the first licensed character lunch box — featuring Mickey Mouse — in 1935.

Another metal stamping company, General Press & Fabricating Co., now operates just across the street, at 1500 W. St. Paul Ave.

Wright considered locations in Bay View, Walker’s Point and Riverwest for Third Space Brewing before deciding to lease the St. Paul Ave. building.

It provides enough room for his production equipment at an affordable rent, he said, while its Menomonee Valley location is close to downtown and its nearby neighborhoods that help attract craft beer customers. Wright’s plans include a tap room and beer garden that reflect the industrial atmosphere.

“We love the authenticity,” Wright said.

There are other investments occurring on W. St. Paul Ave. between the I-94 overpass and N. 25th St., including an expansion by mechanical contractor J.M. Brennan Inc., 2101 W. St. Paul Ave.; Plum Moving Media’s upcoming move from the Historic Third Ward to 1418 W. St. Paul Ave., and the planned development of a home décor business district tied to Brass Light Gallery, House of Stone and BBC Lighting — all located on the street.

Looft said Third Space’s opening will help draw more tenants to his group’s buildings.

The brewery’s operations will show prospective tenants that the property’s redevelopment “is really happening,” he said.