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Funky Retail Center Planned for Tosa Triangle

Developer's vision would bring chic urban appeal to long-abandoned Burleigh site.

Recycling 1950s warehouses through “strategic” demolition drives the design of an urban loft-style retail complex proposed for segments of a 69-acre site at Highway 45 and West Burleigh Street, known as the Burleigh Triangle.

"It will be a hip, contemporary, almost loft industrial look," according to Timothy Blum, executive vice president and retail division managing director with the project owner and developer, Chicago-based HSA Commercial.

The project, dubbed The Mayfair Collection at Wauwatosa, will go before the Plan Commission Monday, when Blum will make a pitch that he hopes will sell the city on the plan.

The proposal is a scaled down version of HSA’s and the city’s early visions for the site, which include a dense, pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use development. A bad economy, however, dictates developing the site in phases and recycling the warehouses rather than building new, so that HSA is able to offer lease rates tenants will be willing to pay, Blum said.

Still, he said, “we are coming in, in this bleak economy, with something that is viable, and that kicks starts this master plan. ... We'll be the Pied Piper, more than likely, that is going to enhance the development prospects for all that is around it."

And a Pied Piper is just what the area needs to lure others to give new life to idle former industrial sites on both sides of West Burleigh and just east of Highway 45, according to Ald. Craig Wilson, who represents the district.

Although the project is scaled back, and there is some concern that the first phase is retail only, Wilson said, “they are telling us they think they can make it work, and we should let them have at it.”

"If this project can take hold and grow, things will kind of be spurred from there. That is the expectation," Wilson said. "Adjacent properties ... need a boost like this coming through, so everything else can blossom as well."

If the current proposal is approved and financing and other details fall into place, Blum said, HSA could break ground as early as fall, with a spring 2013 opening. He said HSA will seek financial support from the city for infrastructure improvements, through tax incremental financing.

The project’s first phase will lay down an urban street grid that will be carried throughout future development phases for the site, Blum said. Portions of the obsolete warehouses will be dismantled, he said, while "the guts, the slab, the foundation, the columns, the roofs" are retained.

"You will never be able to tell they aren't new buildings," Blum said. "Conceptually, what we're doing is looking for new ways to get development moving again.

"The world changed in 2008, and large-scale new development went by the boards. We would never have been able to tear down and rebuild.

"The cost to replicate – that is, to start from scratch – would have been $90 to $95 a square foot. The cost to reuse the existing buildings is $35 a square foot. That's how we can afford to do it and how retailers can afford to come in."

Storefront designs will include a mix of building heights, materials and architecture, such as painted steel and limestone facades.

“It’s going to have character ... and will use rich materials, such as stone, wood, metal,” said Blum, who expects to secure best-in-class retail tenants new to Milwaukee, making it a shopping destination that will attract shoppers from within the area as well as north to Green Bay and west to Madison.

The project includes a covered but open air arcade and more than $250,000 in ornamental landscaping to accent shopping, parking and entrance areas, Blum said. A total project cost was not available.

The retail complex proposal includes three buildings totaling nearly 250,000 square feet along the western property edge that runs along Highway 45. HSA's proposal shows another eight buildings with a total of nearly 150,000 square feet of space that front on Burleigh Street.

Blum declined to name specific tenants, saying only that tenants would be fashion and furnishings retailers new to the Milwaukee area. The tenants HSA is courting are retailers that typically set up only one or no more than two stores within a state, according to Blum. Retailers bandied about among those familiar with the project include Nordstrom Rack and the Container Store, neither of which have a Wisconsin presence.

The project is intended to complement Mayfair Mall, rather than compete with it, Blum said. It also won’t replicate retail found along Bluemound Road in Brookfield or at BayShore Town Center in Glendale, he said.

The proposal aligns with the city's early visions for the site, but on a smaller scale, Blum said. If the first phase of the project takes off and spurs additional demand, the entire parcel eventually would carry more than 1 million square feet of new development.

The market will dictate the quantity and type of future development on the inner and northeast sections of the site, Blum said, which might include a mix of office, residential or hotel development.

Other details to be hammered out for this first phase include traffic analyses and access plans, and HSA will work with the city and the state Department of Transportation on traffic flow, Blum said.

The plan works around and allows for Total Logistic Control to continue its warehouse operations on the site, Blum said. 

HSA began piecing together the Burleigh Triangle in 2005. In 2007, the firm bought two major chunks – a 24.7-acre parcel for $6.75 million and a 38.6-acre parcel for $8.5 million.

"The value proposition, if you will," said Blum, "is that we will strengthen the Mayfair corridor, clean up the edges of Highway 45 and Burleigh, and generate tax revenues and jobs."

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