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Mandel wants to raze four historic Wauwatosa buildings, preserve one

5/4/2012 - By Tom Daykin of the Journal Sentinel

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 Thursday night that it's too costly to preserve the other red brick buildings, three of which were designed by noted architect Alexander Eschweiler.

"They've essentially suffered from severe neglect for nearly 50 years," said Phil Aiello, Mandel Group's development manager, citing long
stretches when the buildings were vacant.

Aiello said the firm's initial plan was to build new apartments, along with creating up to 41 apartments within the Eschweiler buildings. But restoring the historic buildings would cost roughly $365,000 per apartment, compared with around $210,000 for each apartment built
through new construction, he said.

Repairs to the roofs, windows and masonry are among the big ticket items, and the costs would be far above what federal and state historic
preservation tax credits would help cover, Aiello said. He estimated $5 million to $7 million would be needed to cover that financing gap.

Once Mandel Group executives realized the cost of repairs, they considered seeking federal tax credits given to developers who create apartments for lower-income renters.But those credits weren't available because the costs of renovating the buildings would be far beyond that program's financing guidelines, said Barry Mandel, Mandel Group chairman.

Four of the Tudor Revival style buildings opened in 1912 as the Milwaukee County School of Agriculture and Domestic Economy, and were
designed by Eschweiler. His work includes the former Wisconsin Gas Co. headquarters, 626 E. Wisconsin Ave., and a mansion that now houses the Charles Allis Art Museum, 1801 N. Prospect Ave.

The other building, a power plant, was built in 1936. All five buildings, which are on a hill east of U.S. Highway 45 and south of Swan
Blvd., are designated as historic by the city. They are part of 89 acres that Milwaukee County sold last year to an affiliate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Real Estate
Foundation.

The foundation is developing Innovation Park, which will include a university research building, privately developed buildings for technology-oriented companies and other uses. UWM foundation officials have been negotiating a sale of the 8-acre Eschweiler site to Mandel Group, and plan to use the sale proceeds to
help make a future installment payment to the county.

Mandel Group would preserve the former school administration building, which Mandel said is the best of the historic structures. The building would be used as the leasing office and community room for the apartments, and for other non-residential uses.

Mandel said the firm would seek city financing of around $2 million to $2.5 million to help pay for the costs of restoration, with that money repaid through property taxes generated by new development at Innovation Park. The Common Council in 2010 approved a $12 million tax incremental financing district to pay for streets, sewers and other public improvements at Innovation Park.

The remaining buildings would be demolished, with their land used to develop 192 higher-end apartments in eight three-story buildings, with
underground parking, under a preliminary plan. Mandel Group hasn't yet made a formal proposal to the preservation commission. Thursday night's meeting was an informational session, and the commission took no action. The commission will next meet on May 23.

The firm needs the commission's approval to demolish buildings, or make other exterior changes. Any commission decisions that deny approval can be overruled by the Common Council.

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