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
|Name||Conv. Year||Year Built||Formerly||Units|
|The Granary Lofts||2019||1920||Warehouse||69
|Vantage on the Park||2019||1957||Hotel||96
|Historic Garfield & Griot||2018||1887||School||71
|Welford Sanders Lofts||2018||1915||Factory||59|
|735 West||2018||1968||Office Building||144|
|The Germania||2017||1896||Office Building||90|
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
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
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
|Name||Year Built||Formerly||Conv. Year||Units|
|Historic Lofts on Kilbourn||1863||Healthcare Building||2005||99
|River Place Lofts||1871||Factory||2016||64|
|Historic Garfield & Griot||1887||School||2018||71|
|The Germania||1896||Office Building||2017||90|
|City Hall Square||1900||Factory||1997||135|
|Kunzelmann - Esser Lofts||1902||Retail Store||2002||67|
|Brix Apartment Lofts||1907||Factory||2015||98|
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
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.
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