Developer showcases Eschweiler revitalization plans

Published on: 7/24/2013

Efforts to preserve the 101-year-old, rapidly deteriorating Eschweiler buildings on Wauwatosa's west side are continuing, officials announced last week.

Members of the city Historic Preservation Commission met with representatives from the Mandel Group, the private development firm hoping to breathe life into the property, formerly owned by the county, near U.S. Highway 45 and Swan Boulevard.

Mandel is one of several participants in the revitalization effort with its plans to construct several new buildings alongside at least one renovated Eschweiler building for residential use. Nearly 200 apartments are proposed for the site.

Mandel's plans coincide with the UWM Real Estate Foundation's nearby Innovation Campus that is under construction as a business incubator site. A third, less certain component is the proposed charter school known as the Forest Exploration Center that would occupy some of the Eschweiler buildings.

Maximizing preservation

While meeting with commissioners last week, Mandel executives continued to trumpet a desire to save as many of the existing century-old dwellings as possible in the revitalization effort. But a number of uncertainties continue to loom, including a lack of feedback from the Wisconsin Historical Society.

'We're still trying to get them to meet with us,' said Alderman Dennis McBride, who serves on the commission. 'That way, we can at least assess the risks.'

The county sold the Eschweiler buildings to the UWM Real Estate Foundation, a transaction that normally requires approval from the historical society for any disposition of the buildings. Mandel has been working with the foundation in acquiring the buildings.

Phillip Aiello, project manager with the Mandel Group, updated commissioners on the numerous moving pieces that could alter the project one way or the other. In addition to collaboration with the historical society, proposals are aimed at maintaining a butterfly preserve and working with the city and Wauwatosa School District.

'Other than that, this deal isn't very complex,' said Aiello, who received a hearty dose of laughter for his tongue-in-cheek statement.

School proposal, too

Commissioners briefly discussed the ongoing Forest school proposal with Mandel officials. Fundraising will be a key to that component of the revitalization, and if plans do not move forward, several of the Eschweiler buildings could be razed. A fundraising event reportedly took place last month, though the specific dollar amount raised was unknown.

Leaders with the Forest school need to raise $2 million toward stabilizing several of the Eschweiler buildings during a two-year period to see the project through.

'I think it's still too early to tell,' Aiello said. 'We need more feedback.'

Aiello also discussed materials proposed for the new buildings planned on the grounds. Armed with dozens of brick and roofing samples, Aiello said he and other Mandel officials have made painstaking efforts to ensure any new construction matches the Tudor Revival style of the Eschweiler buildings.

'We've taken bricks to the Eschweiler buildings and have been seeing how they stack up to the original,' Aiello said.

Commissioners lauded Aiello and other Mandel officials for their efforts during a long, complex process that is far from complete.

'I think the beauty of the (proposed) buildings is the shear simplicity of it,' commissioner Gene Guszkowski said. 'I really like what you're doing.'

With the commission officially granting its stamp of approval, Mandel's plans will be going before the Common Council.