Downtown Waukesha could see a boon with high-end apartment complexes

Submitted photo
This is a rendering of the proposed Plaza Apartments on W. Main and N. Barstow streets in downtown Waukesha. The proposal calls for 54 one- and two-bedroom apartments as well as retail space.
Published on: 8/25/2014

Catherine Huelsman said helping the long-term viability of downtown Waukesha is a two-step process, a cause and effect.

The more people there are living and working in downtown Waukesha, "the better chance there will be to attract retail vendors," said Huelsman, general manager of Berg Management, a property management firm that leases and rents commercial and residential properties in downtown Waukesha. "It's hard to keep downtown alive if people aren't living in the area."

And when commercial development does well, the downtown economy, in turn, thrives.

Which is why a recent trend is being viewed positively.

Going dowtown

Additional residences, in the form of upscale apartment complexes, appear to be on downtown's horizon.

A year after the 42-unit Kendal Lofts opened on the west side of downtown, construction is well underway at the Prairieville Apartments, operated by Berg Management, at 260 South St.

Now, two new high-end apartments are being proposed for downtown: an addition to the Main Street Plaza on West Main and North Barstow streets, and the other along the Fox River at the southeast corner of Corrina Boulevard and Buckley Street.

Plans for the new proposed complexes, submitted by Sterling Investments, were approved by the city's Redevelopment Authority last week and will next go before the Plan Commission this fall for preliminary site plan approvals and architectural reviews, Community Development Specialist Jeff Fortin said.

New apartments

The four-story 54-unit Plaza Apartments would be built at the vacant lot adjacent to the Main Street Plaza, which includes retail and upper-level apartments, and between the vacant former Panos Fresh Market store.

The new apartments, called the Plaza II, include three studio apartments, nine two-bedroom and the rest one-bedroom units. Street-level and underground parking are part of the proposed plans.

Also under the Plaza II proposal, the existing retail layout of the first Plaza building would change.

Retail spots on that building's west side would move onto Main Street, where Fortin said tenants have a better chance to succeed. The vacated space will be converted to one-bedroom apartments.

The Corinna/Buckley four-story proposed apartment complex, just east of Plaza II, would include 30 units and would be larger in size than apartments at Plaza II. First-floor parking would be available. It would also include a fifth-story penthouse level.

Built-in demand

Fortin said these complexes are "a way to tap into an unmet demand." He said when the city did its Central City Master Plan in 2012, a study indicated that downtown could use more mixed-use tenants.

"Developers are seeing an opportunity," Fortin said. "There's a market rate for it, so we are filling an area of demand."

Fortin said these apartments are geared at targeting the Millennial Generation or those between the ages of 20 and early 30s.

"These apartments are aiming for young professionals and will offer amenities similar to what you'd find on Milwaukee's east side and in Wauwatosa," Fortin said.

The additional apartments will meet a need that downtown has been lacking, Huelsman concurred.

"There's a very strong market for apartments, particularly in downtown," she said. "There's a lot of demand for higher-end apartments."

Prairieville's progress

Huelsman said she's hoping this demographic also helps the Prairieville Apartments become a success. Construction on the apartments, which are being built on top of a parking structure, began this spring and could be finished by next spring.

"It was a space and building that wasn't being used as well as it could," Huelsman said. "So now it will be better used. It's a good investment and a natural evolution for that area."

Included in the plan is a one studio unit, six units with one bedroom and one bathroom each; four units with one bedroom, one bathroom with a den; four units with two bedrooms and two bathrooms; and seven units with two bedrooms and one bathroom.

Improvements to the building's facade is also part of the plan.

Units range from 515 square feet to 1,433 square feet and are projected to range in cost from $775 to $1,788 per month.

And like the Plaza Apartments, retail space will be available on the ground floor — part of a second phase of the project, Huelsman said.

Huelsman said crews are constructing an elevator shaft and elevated pedestrian walkway over South Street. The skywalk will serve as a convenience for residential tenants of the new building and the commercial office tenants at 831 N. Grand Ave. who park in the South Street Municipal Parking Ramp.

Kendal's first year

These additions on the east and south-central parts of downtown come a year after Kendal Lofts, a three-story apartment building at 456 W. Main St., opened.

Kendal Group LTD General Manager Heidi Miller said the first year "went excellent" and is expecting a majority of its tenants to resign their leases.

Miller said the rise in apartments in downtown isn't surprising.

"Overall, people want to live in downtowns," said Miller, who operates apartments in Bay View, Walker's Point in the Third Ward in Milwaukee and in downtown Racine. "It's the same with Milwaukee. Competition is good. It will continue to bring more people downtown."