Saturday, May 5, 2012

Developer Changes Plan; Historic Eschweiler County Buildings To Be Razed

[Originally posted 12:55 a.m.] When Milwaukee County made a controversial deal with UW-M so it could sprawl from the East Side of Milwaukee to a proposed research park on public lands in Western Wauwatosa, saving historic buildings there by famed Milwaukee architect Alexander Eschweiler was part of plan.

I had my doubts about it in 2010:

I missed this Business Journal story when I was out of town and want to post a link to it because it shows how the proposed UWM engineering campus on the Milwaukee County Grounds has evolved.

Key point: five historic buildings on the site will be converted to graduate school housing.

My first reaction is that it indicates just how misplaced is this site, and why more than ever the new school should have gone downtown.
Still, in 2011:
Rehabbing the Eschweilers
This housing would be centered on the Eschweiler Campus, a group of buildings designed by Milwaukee architect Alexander Eschweiler that are collectively on the National Historic Registry. The buildings have been in disuse for many years and have fallen into a sad state of disrepair.
“They are pretty much just shells,” Gilbert said. He added that he expected about 100 housing units would be in the rehabilitated Eschweiler buildings and another 150 in new buildings on the grounds.
And now, in 2012:
Four of the five historic buildings on the County Grounds in Wauwatosa would be demolished, with one building preserved, as part of Mandel Group Inc.'s latest plan to develop nearly 200 apartments on the site.

Mandel executives told members of the city Historic Preservation Commission on Thursday night that it's too costly to preserve the other red brick buildings, three of which were designed by noted architect Alexander Eschweiler.
But in highway-happy Wisconsin and southeastern Wisconsin, are we surprised to see that road-building through the project carries the day? 

Or that you could jam a road through the project area and call it a Parkway?
There were no hearty congratulations on the long-awaited beginning of a project that has been called the biggest and most promising in the recent history of Milwaukee – about which Real Estate Foundation Director Dave Gilbert said, "We feel we can compete with any region in the country... even Silicon Valley itself."

There were not even any smiles. Rather, a sort of glum realization seemed to settle over [Wauwatosa] aldermen as they saw what impact the project will really have on the County Grounds.

"The road looks really – big," Ald. Tim Hanson said after seeing the plans for the north-to-south route planned to serve the research and development center between Watertown Plank Road and Swan Boulevard.

Other aldermen echoed Hanson's feeling. The broad roadway sweeping through the Grounds suddenly looked immense on just 51 acres open to development.

But UWM Foundation designers said the road, which has tentatively been named Technology Parkway, had actually been downsized from preliminary plans – plans the aldermen had already seen – that called for two lanes in each direction.

The road now would be just one lane in each direction, but with a 5-foot bike lane on each side and an 8-foot parking lane on one side, plus a 16-foot median along much of its length. Altogether, about 58 to 60 feet wide.
The MilwaukeeCountyFirst blog has more of the history:
When Scott Walker was swept into the office of Milwaukee County Executive, ironically as a result of a recall election, he had also promised to preserve these treasures, saying that if he were to do anything, it would be to work at having the area designated as a state park.
But as is all too often the case with Walker, what he says and what he does are two vastly different things.

Instead of filling positions in the important Economic Development Division with competent people that would be able to attract businesses to Milwaukee County, he instead filled it with campaign staffers like Robert Dennik and Tim Russell.  (Yes, that is the same Tim Russell that has been arrested and charged as a result of the ongoing Walkergate investigations.)

One of the many bad things that happened from Walker’s poor decision making is that as businesses and agencies moved out of the county grounds, none moved in to take their place.
By 2006, the buildings stood empty.

The empty buildings quickly started succumbing to the weather, aided by the fact that Walker’s austerity measures prevented the county from taking any preservation or preventative measures, or even allowing the utilities to stay on.  He refused even in the face of a letter written by then Wauwatosa Mayor Theresa Estness, which reminded him of his promise to split the cost of sealing the buildings in an effort to preserve them.

You can see pictures of the damage from the weather, the neglect and vandalism that has occurred over the years here and here.

Then, not satisfied with intentional neglect, and with a new conservative mayor in Wauwatosa, Jill Didier, Walker decided to break his promise completely and started courting the necessary authorities to allow the grounds to be sold to land developers.


Anonymous said...

These plans are still preliminary--a public groundswell could change the outcome. We really need to hold Milwaukee County, the UWM Real Estate Foundation and the City of Wauwatosa acccountable and insist they follow the approved plans. NOW is the time to gather, strategize, and speak out to them--they must follow their own official documents.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

It's a tragedy that the buildings are likely deteriorated past being reclaimed.

The crime is that conscious, malicious decisions seem to have resulted in their abandonment and decline.

Anonymous said...

I've talked with some Tosans involved, who once were dedicated to saving the Eschweiler buildings, and they simply are being overwhelmed by the developer Mandel's doom-and-gloom reports. They also are not seeing the contradictions in the messages. Last week, as the JS reported, Mandel said that federal historical preservation tax credits were not available for buildings turned into apartments. That is not true. So the story changed. That argument disappeared, and now new reasons are stated by the developer -- and the Tosans involved are going along again.

In sum, I agree that a groundswell could change this, if Tosans reach their representatives involved -- and others with any ability to reach those representatives, too, on the historical preservation commission in Tosa, its common council, etc. -- and require real and solid answers that do not change from day to day. The condition of the buildings was evident when the developer said that they could be saved, and they have not deteriorated so much in only months.

Accountability is needed, you bet, and Tosans are the ones at this point to demand it from the developer and UWM. I hope that some in Tosa do step up to do so and to let others of know what we can do to support such efforts.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

Anon is absolutely correct, Historic Tax Credits are fully available for any commercial projects. The Owner has to maintain ownership for 15 years, so condos don't qualify. It doesn't become a cash spigot.

20% fed tax credits and 5% state. That's a significant chunk of change.

To qualify, the NPS will evaluate the buildings to identify historic fabric that needs to remain, and it is likely that much of the interior cannot be just gutted, which aggravates some developers. A knowledgeable reuse architect can make a difference.

An effective tactic might be to suggest that the UWM involvement extend to the input of the School of Architecture. They are sensitive to historic concerns, and were helpful in the reuse of the Kenilworth buildings on the East Side.

Say What? said...

Yes the roads proposed are big and when the capacities of highway 100 , Watertwon Plank, Bluemound, Swan Blvd, Glenview, 84th..... reach their max it's back to the drawing board once again...No light rail through this area? No plans for coordinated mass transit between Waukesha, Milwaukee and surrounding areas... This will be a Bluemound Barker road area duplicated.
What was once the Pig Farms and open space where wildlife and humans felt free will become a ribbon of concrete all because we Must develop? We must expand? Instead of development- make it a place for urbanites to escape,where young soccer players,hikers,dog walkers, bikers, and above all wildlife can coexist. I ramble..

JB said...

Rambling is nice, Paul Trotter.

I inadvertently drove through this area last week, and really appreciated it. I'm not from Milwaukee, and didn't know this was the site of the Monarch Trail. It would be a terrible shame to lose the open space and the catchment basins and the view of the Eschweiler buildings on top of the hill.

Max B said...

Wisconsin baited and switched . . . again!

When it comes to politicians, developers and others who stand to gain financially from a project, it always pays to assume the worst of motives.

Anonymous said...

Zombie, I've filed for and received historical preservation credits, and it's even easier than you suggest. It's done here by the Wisconsin Historical Society, very efficiently and helpfully (with advice on finding resources), usually within two weeks for homeowners. And businesses get rush treatment -- and get even more millions every year than do homeowners here in Wisconsin alone.

And interiors can be gutted, as it's preserving exteriors that matter in the program (although credits can be earned for interior work that helps to preserve a building's value, even improvements so ahistorical as central air conditioning!).

The information all is available online at, if anyone is interested. Perhaps some Tosans will read up and suggest that their aldermen do so, too, to rebut Mandel's claims. I got nowhere trying to do so with an alderman on the preservation commission there, because I'm not a Tosa voter.