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40 Years of Adaptive Reuse in Milwaukee: Old Factories & Hospitals Transformed Into 3,300 Apartments

Adaptive reuse apartment projects are on the rise nationally. In fact, a recent RentCafe study examined this growing trend and found that, throughout the last 70 years, nearly 2,000 old buildings were converted into residential apartments in the U.S., including around 800 in the last decade alone.

In particular, Milwaukee ranked in the top 10 cities nationally, with 36 old buildings reborn as rentals — a tie with Cleveland and ahead of much larger cities like Dallas, Seattle and Washington, D.C. Chicago took first place with 91 converted apartment buildings.

As a former industrial center and harbor city on the west shore of Lake Michigan, Milwaukee has had its fair share of warehouses, factories, tanneries and other buildings that sustained the trade business. But now, decades later, those buildings are being converted to sustain a different type of market: housing. For instance, one of Milwaukee’s most recognizable warehouses — the F. Mayer Boot & Shoe Company — is now The Fortress, serving as loft apartments.

Milwaukee Sees Boom in Conversions in Last 2 Decades

After almost 40 years of conversions from old buildings to apartments, Milwaukee has added a total of 3,262 new apartments to the market. The city’s adaptive reuse journey began in 1983 with the conversion of the CW Fischer Furniture Store and Warehouse — first built in 1912 — into the Chalet at the River apartments. Then, during the 1990s, another project was completed, which provided the city with an additional 135 rentals. Afterwards, adaptive reuse projects gained in popularity and the 2000s saw 12 buildings converted, bringing the city 1,130 new units. However, the 2010s were the most prolific years — both in Milwaukee and nationally — with 22 buildings converted in the city and more than 1,800 new apartments added.

Milwaukee’s Most Recent Apartment Conversion Projects

The most recent adaptive reuse projects in Milwaukee include an 1892 building — the historic F. Mayer Boot & Shoe Company warehouse — which is now the Milwaukee Fortress. Its renovation in 2019 brought 132 new apartments to the market, while preserving a part of the city’s history.

Likewise, two other historic buildings from the 1800s were converted just one year prior in 2018: the Bristol Hotel, built in 1875 and redesigned as the Pritzlaff Lofts, and the Garfield School, which was built in 1887 and now welcomes tenants as the Historic Garfield & Griot complex. An 1800s building was also renovated and repurposed in both 2016 and 2017, a trend that shows the city’s dedication to breathing new life into some of its oldest buildings.

Top 10 Most Recent Apartment Conversions in Milwaukee

NameConv. YearYear BuiltFormerlyUnits
Milwaukee Fortress
2019
1892
Warehouse
132
Legacy Lofts
2019
1910
Factory
64
The Granary Lofts
20191920
Warehouse
69
Vantage on the Park
20191957
Hotel
96
Pritzlaff Lofts
20181875
Hotel
98
Historic Garfield & Griot
20181887
School
71
Haymarket Lofts20181907Warehouse72
Welford Sanders Lofts20181915Factory59
735 West
20181968Office Building144
The Germania
20171896Office Building90

Most Popular Conversions in Milwaukee: Factories & Warehouses

Mirroring the national trend, the most common conversion projects in Milwaukee were those focusing on factories. And, because the city had flourished thanks to its industrial nature, it’s only natural that many of its largest and oldest constructions would be factories and warehouses. In fact, a total of 12 factories and eight warehouses were converted into residential spaces here in the last 40 years.

Most Interesting Adaptive Reuse Projects in Milwaukee

Adaptive reuse is common with landmark buildings, which leads to some pretty interesting stories for some of Milwaukee’s new apartment buildings. Among the ciyt’s more unique projects we also find these unique, history-rich buildings:

  • Pfister & Vogel, ex-Tanning Company: Built in 1871, converted in 2016

riverplace lofts milwaukee adaptive reuse

Image courtesy of River Place Lofts

The Pfister & Vogel tannery was a staple of Milwaukee and specialized in tanning hides and skins. The factory even became one of the largest leather producers in the country. But, eventually, after being owned by several different companies, including the U.S. Leather Company, it was shut down in 2000. In 2016, the complex was redesigned and adapted for residential use, and it now stands as the River Place Lofts.

  • The Germania, ex-Office Building: Built in 1896, converted in 2017

What was, at the time of construction, the largest office building in Milwaukee, the Germania building is a Beaux-Arts historic staple of the city. Previously, it served as the headquarters of George Brumder’s publishing empire, and it entered the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Then, after the publishing business left the building and the printing presses were removed, Milwaukee used Germania’s basement as its first underground parking. After changing ownership a couple more times, the building was eventually converted in 2017 to Germania Apartments, supplying 90 more units to Milwaukee’s housing market.

  • Ziegler Factory, ex-Candy Company: Built in 1907, converted in 2015

brix apartments milwaukee adaptive reuse

Image courtesy of Brix Apartment Lofts

Also part of Milwaukee’s industry was the Zeigler Candy Company, which helped the city become one of the top five candy producers in the country. The company was purchased by an investment group in 1971, yet production soon stopped and it eventually closed down. Years later, the building was bought and reconditioned into what is now known as the Brix Apartment Lofts, which provides the city with 98 loft apartments and 5 retail spaces.

  • Pabst Brewery and Keg House, ex-Brewery: Built in 1911, converted in 2009

Although first founded in 1844 — when it was called the Best and Company Brewery — the Pabst Brewery and Keg House’s entire complex was finished in 1911. The 30+ buildings that made up the grounds of this brewery were renovated over time to serve many functions, including office, retail and residential spaces. The complex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003 and, after being converted for residential use, the apartments created in these historic buildings are now known as the Blue Ribbon Lofts.

  • Mount Sinai, ex-Hospital: Built in 1863, converted in 2005

Mount Sinai Hospital is the oldest building to have been converted in Milwaukee. Built in 1863 as one of the few medical facilities in the area, it was sustained by the community for a long time. However, after undergoing various changes in ownership, the old building of the Mount Sinai Hospital was repurposed as residential apartments in what is now the Historic Lofts on Kilbourn, while the medical tradition was carried on by Aurora Sinai Medical Center.

Milwaukee’s Top 10 Oldest Buildings to Undergo Adaptive Reuse

The oldest building to be converted in Milwaukee isn’t the only gem from the 1800s to come back as residential space. Rather, Milwaukee seems to be on a mission to bring some of its oldest buildings back to life, as projects focused on 1800s monuments to historic resilience have been on the rise. For instance, six of the 10 oldest buildings to be adapted for residential use were constructed in the 1800s, while the other four were built prior to 1910.

Top 10 Oldest Buildings Converted in Milwaukee

NameYear BuiltFormerlyConv. YearUnits
Historic Lofts on Kilbourn
1863
Healthcare Building
2005
99
River Place Lofts
1871
Factory2016
64
Pritzlaff Lofts
1875
Hotel201898
Historic Garfield & Griot
1887School201871
Milwaukee Fortress
1892Warehouse2019132
The Germania
1896Office Building201790
City Hall Square
1900Factory1997135
Kunzelmann - Esser Lofts
1902Retail Store200267
Haymarket Lofts
1907Warehouse201872
Brix Apartment Lofts
1907Factory201598

As we advance into the new decade, this trend is only expected to grow, and we’ll probably see more office buildings and hotels repurposed into residential space in the near future. This is likely because conversion projects answer multiple needs — from supplying the market with additional housing units to encouraging sustainability and a greener approach to overall construction.

Featured image courtesy of The Fortress

Methodology

RentCafe is a nationwide apartment search website that enables renters to easily find apartments and houses for rent throughout the United States. Apartment data was provided by our sister company, Yardi Matrix, a business development and asset management tool for brokers, sponsors, banks and equity sources underwriting investments in the multifamily, office, industrial and self-storage sectors.

Adaptive reuse refers to reusing an existing building for a purpose other than what it was originally intended for. The study is based exclusively on apartment data related to buildings containing 50 or more units. For the purposes of this study, certain building subcategories have been grouped into a general category that encompasses them. For example, manufacturing units, mills, or breweries fall under the Factory category.

All building photos used with expressed permission from the respective property management. RentCafe does not grant the right for property image use.

Fair Use & Redistribution

We encourage and freely grant you permission to reuse, host or repost the research and graphics presented in this article. When doing so, we ask that you credit our research by linking to RentCafe.com or this page, so that your readers can learn more about this project, the research behind it and its methodology. For more in-depth, customized data, please contact us at media@rentcafe.com.

Mihaela Buzec
Mihaela Buzec is a writer and online content developer for RentCafe. She covers topics about everything related to the renting lifestyle, from decorating and interior design to finding the right apartment, frugal living, money saving advice, and more. She dives deep into topics of interest, writing well-researched comprehensive guides on subjects such as renting with pets, saving on utilities, or avoiding rental scams to help renters stay informed and live smart. Mihaela is a versatile writer whose work was also published on many blogs and websites in a variety of industries: real estate, design, lifestyle, college life, and personal finance. Mihaela holds a BA in English and German Language and Literature, an MA in Current Linguistics, and she is currently pursuing a PhD in neurolinguistics. With a background in academic writing, she is a passionate reader, writer, and researcher, looking to always expand her knowledge. You can get in touch with Mihaela at mihaela.buzec@yardi.com.

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