Milwaukee Boosts Park Place Business Park

07.31.2017

Story by Tom Daykin | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

 

Hopes ran high when plans were unveiled 35 years ago for Park Place business park, in Milwaukee’s far northwest corner.

 

Park Place was Milwaukee’s response to new suburban developments that were drawing companies away from the city. When the first building opened in 1984, it was anchored by A.O. Smith Corp.’s headquarters.

 

Today, that 12-story building is less than half full, and other business park buildings are underused. That’s not a small matter, as Park Place’s 1.5 million square feet amount to the largest concentration of office space in Milwaukee outside downtown.

 

So, city officials are proceeding with plans to fund improvements at Park Place — including cash for a new A.O. Smith research facility, other grants to attract more businesses and an upgraded road.

 

“This particular office complex certainly could use a shot in the arm,” said Ald. James Bohl, whose district includes Park Place. The business park has about two dozen buildings, with thousands of office workers, on roughly 300 acres east of I-41 between W. Good Hope and W. Bradley roads.

 

The Common Council on Monday will review plans for A.O. Smith Corp.’s 42,700-square-foot research technology center at 11000 W. Park Place.

 

Also, the council at its Sept. 6 meeting will consider the $950,000 financing proposal.

 

It includes:

– A $125,000 grant for the $8.5 million A.O. Smith technology center, which is being developed by Irgens Partners LLC.
– $300,000 to attract and retain other businesses at Park Place.
– $450,000 to repave and create improved landscaping for W. Good Hope Road, from N. 107th St. to I-41.

 

Those funds, along with $75,000 in administrative costs, would be repaid over an estimated 12 years by the technology center’s property taxes.

 

Both the technology center and financing proposal were endorsed Tuesday by the council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee, which Bohl chairs.

 

TECH CENTER FOCUSES ON WATER

The tech center would have 50 employees at its planned November 2018 opening, and could eventually have up to 85 employees, said Dan Casanova, a city senior economic development specialist.

 

The new facility, which would focus on research and development in the areas of water heating, water treatment and air purification, would replace the company’s obsolete research lab at another Park Place building.

 

“It’s a good sign for Park Place to have new construction happening at this visible corner,” Casanova told zoning committee members.

 

A.O. Smith’s building would be the first new development at Park Place since Junior Achievement of Wisconsin Inc. opened its Kohl’s Education Center in 2011.

 

The overall occupancy rate of the office and retail buildings in Park Place’s southern portion, between W. Good Hope and W. Calumet roads, is around 60%, according to a Department of City Development report.

 

The business park’s twin 12-story office buildings, One Park Plaza and Two Park Plaza, have occupancy rates of 44% and 65%, the report said.

 

The Waters at Park Place, a one-story office building, is empty, and the Liberty Plaza strip retail building is 8% occupied with just one tenant, Cousins Subs.

 

By contrast, the nearby Woodland Prime office park, in Menomonee Falls, has a 90% occupancy rate, Casanova said. Companies that have moved there, such as Eaton Corp., have taken advantage of lower property taxes, he said.

 

Based on current combined net property tax rates in Menomonee Falls and Milwaukee, a Woodland Prime building with an assessed value of $5 million would have an annual tax bill of $88,000. That compares with $143,500 for a $5 million building at Park Place.

 

Woodland Prime is among several business parks developed in Menomonee Falls and neighboring Germantown since Park Place was launched, Casanova said.

 

Meanwhile, several businesses in recent years have moved to Milwaukee’s downtown area from outlying locations, including Dohmen & Co., which left Woodland Prime, and Plunkett Raysich Architects LLP, which relocated from Park Place.

 

SIDEWALKS MAKE A COMEBACK

Demand for office space at Park Place has weakened because areas such as downtown Milwaukee and Wauwatosa “are a little more in vogue right now,” said Francis Brzezinski, chief executive officer at Interstate Partners LLC.

 

An Interstate affiliate owns Two Park Plaza, which includes Crisis Prevention Institute and ARI Network Services Inc. among its larger tenants.

 

“We wish we had the building full,” Brzezinski said. “But we’re doing OK.”

 

Both Brzezinski and Matt Hunter, a leasing agent for One Park Plaza, said Park Place still has the advantage of being centrally located for businesses that have employees commuting from throughout the Milwaukee area.

 

“It’s been attractive for large back room (office) users,” said Hunter, a vice president at CBRE Inc.’s Milwaukee office.

 

One Park Plaza still includes A.O. Smith’s headquarters among its anchor tenants, as well as back offices for BMO Harris Bank.

 

Park Place’s strengths include a pleasant environment, said Brzezinski, who was a local partner with Trammell Crow Co. when that Dallas-based firm developed the business park.

 

Trammell Crow’s vision included man-made lakes and extensive landscaping, with the firm creating a suburban business park at the very edge of Milwaukee’s city limits.

 

“They maintain the grounds like a country club,” one Park Place office tenant said in a 1993 Milwaukee Sentinel article.

 

Park Place was designed to attract office users as the Milwaukee area saw a shift away from manufacturing, with a focus on long-term population growth in nearby Waukesha and Washington counties, according to a 1982 Milwaukee Journal article.

 

“Tailor-made for an evolution,” read the article’s headline.

 

But those plans generally didn’t include sidewalks.

 

That’s why the city’s new financing proposal includes paying for a sidewalk along W. Park Place and N. 110th St. It would include a connection to the A.O. Smith research center.

 

City officials hope that will “lead to a larger sidewalk network,” which would make Park Place more attractive to both office and retail tenants, Casanova told zoning committee members.

 

Brzezinski and Hunter both said more retail uses, including restaurants, would improve Park Place’s appeal.

 

Hunter noted the success of Point Burger Bar, a restaurant that opened at Park Place in 2015.

 

“It helps sell the location as a whole,” he said.

 

Point Burger Bar is next to the mostly empty Liberty Plaza retail strip, which was sold in May for $715,000 — about half its assessed value of $1.37 million — to Liberty Plaza LLC, led by Rory Oppenheimer.

 

That low purchase price allows Liberty Plaza to offer reduced rents to prospective tenants, said Colin Hough, vice president at Anderson Commercial Group, the strip center’s leasing agent. Liberty Plaza also will likely seek grants available through the city financing proposal, he said.

 

Liberty Plaza turns its back to W. Good Hope Road, and its high traffic counts, which isn’t an example of “good urban planning,” said Bohl, the zoning committee chair.

 

The city financing plan “can’t erase errors that were done here 15, 20 years ago,” Bohl said at the committee meeting.

 

“But we can perhaps try to improve that,” he said.

 

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