A quaint neighborhood business district could become Tosa's Caffeine and Cocoa Corner in a plan being presented Tuesday night.
An Alterra Café proposed for the corner of North 68th and West Wells streets will get its first informal hearing among its potential future neighbors at a 7 p.m. Charles Jacobus Park Neighborhood Association meeting in the Hart Park community building.
At the same time, the Common Council is expected to refer the proposal to the Plan Commission, which has scheduled a 7 p.m. public hearing on the project Monday.
The Alterra proposal would erase the existing controversial plan for the corner lot. The developer would sell the property to Alterra, and instead of a multi-story condo development, the site would become a one-story coffee shop with parking in the rear.
The 0.34-acre site, at 6745 W. Wells, has sat idle for nearly a decade, after a former medical clinic on the site closed. William Ibach purchased the building and property in 2003, for $375,000, with plans to develop a mixed-used commercial and residential project.
That project, Ibach’s Plan A, met with strenuous objections from neighbors, and it wasn’t until last year that his Plan B – a $2.5 million, eight-unit townhouse condominium proposal without a sidewalk-level retail anchor – got the city’s nod.
That approval came too late, Ibach said earlier this summer, as the housing market had deteriorated with the nation’s descent into recession in 2008. Lacking any presales since the townhouse condo project was approved, Ibach said he likely would consider Plan C – selling the site that now has an assessed value of about $50,000 less than his purchase price.
Ibach and developer Sean Phelan, of Phelan Development, LLC, in Milwaukee, are asking the city to amend the business planned development zoning for the site to allow for the Alterra Café project. Alterra would not comment for this story, but the application notes that the Alterra Café would be owner-occupied.
The Land of Sweets
The proposed café would compete with – or complement – two upscale sweet shops in the small business district with current and past ties to the Milwaukee coffee roaster.
Just down the block from the proposed café site, Simma’s Bakery, at 817 N. 68th St., serves and sells Simma’s Blend, a coffee created by Alterra for the bakery that has been a Tosa institution for nearly three decades, said owner Mark Carollo.
Just across the street, at 6742 W. Wells, is La Tarte, former baker to the Milwaukee coffee roaster in its early years, said owner Merry Turner, who moved to West Wells Street in 1995.
Also in the immediate area is Ultimate Confections, 820 North 68th St., a shop dedicated to the decadent delights of chocolate.
The two Tosa bakery owners will be among those at tonight’s neighborhood association meeting, where they and others are curious to learn details about the Alterra Café proposal and their neighbors' thoughts on the plan.
“They certainly have a good product and they certainly have a well-known brand,“ Turner said. “But is it necessary to have three bakeries and coffee shops … in this one little corner of the world?“
Turner said she also is concerned about increased traffic in a business district with scant parking and that is tightly bordered by dense residential areas.
“I think it will certainly have an impact on the neighborhood,“ Turner said. “Whether it will be a good impact or not remains to be seen.“
If an Alterra Café does take up residence in the district, Carollo expects it may affect walk-in business at Simma’s, but the bakery’s mainstay – specialty cakes – would allow Simma’s to withstand the new competition. Increased traffic in the area also may generate increased business, Carollo said, but “you can’t really say until they move in.”
Pam Kramer, owner of Pj’s Frame and Gallery at 805 N. 68th St., got a glimpse of the Alterra Café proposal when Phelan visited area businesses with architect drawings for the project about two weeks ago. She said an Alterra would be good for the district, and perhaps even good for existing businesses, even those with which Alterra’s would compete with head to head.
“Everybody has their little niche here,” Kramer said, with some overlap, like Simma’s and La Tarte, or, for Kramer, frame sales across the street from her gallery at Rose’s Flower Shop, at 800 N. 68th St..
“We all worry about each other, (but) I know Rose’s sells frames. That’s life,“ Kramer said.
An Alterra Café, Kramer said, “is the best thing that’s come up so far, and it’s been a long time.”
“It doesn’t look real commercial. It looks like it is nestled there, and I think the neighbors will enjoy it,” Kramer said.
The Alterra Café proposal describes the business as neighborhood-oriented, with most customers likely to be from the immediate surrounding area. The application states that Alterra’s goal is to encourage people to walk or bike to the café, and the café will include a bicycle parking area in the courtyard.
The application also shows that the existing clinic building would be demolished and a 3,623-square-foot café with outdoor courtyard seating would be built in its stead. The café building would have frontage on North 68th and West Wells streets, with a parking lot for up to 19 vehicles. The café would create up to 15 full-time-equivalent positions.