From brownfield site to bustling retail hub, the team behind Freshwater Plaza says the mixed-use development has been a catalyst for growth in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood.
With Cermak Fresh Market as its anchor, Freshwater Plaza brought a full-service grocery store into one of the city’s food deserts and ushered in a slew of retailers and renters. Workers broke ground on the $46 million development in October 2015 and the plaza opened in June 2017.
Located at South First Street and Greenfield Avenue, Freshwater Plaza is also a gateway to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences a few blocks east on Greenfield Avenue. The development was built on the former site of Grede Foundry, and building on the contaminated brownfield site posed some challenges, according to Wangard Partners’ project manager Michael Emem.
Each building in the plaza required a modified foundation system due to environmental and geotechnical issues, but Emem said he likes to think of the development in terms of what it has become, rather than focusing on the early challenges it presented.
“Not only did we improve the site to get it to net zero, but now we’re in the black, if you will, with having a real positive impact on the environment and not just minimizing the negative impact,” he said.
Inspired by its neighbors at the UWM School of Freshwater Sciences, Eppstein Uhen Architects developed sustainable water management techniques for the plaza, including a stormwater system that harvests rainwater runoff from the roof and stores it below the plaza’s parking structure. A water feature that uses recycled freshwater and native water plants also ties into the theme of sustainability.
Aside from Cermak, Freshwater Plaza has attracted retail tenants including Sprint, the UPS Store, Jimmy John’s, Great Clips, Tribeca GalleryCafe & Books, and LyLy Nails & Spa. The Freshwater Plaza apartments are at full capacity, according to property manager Michael Testa, and recent zoning changes mean more rental units are likely coming soon.
“My inbox is blowing up every day with people asking if there’s something available yet,” Testa said.
District 12 Alderman José Pérez says Freshwater Plaza has been a “stabilizer” in the neighborhood and a hub for job creation. So far, the development has created 150 permanent jobs, with the potential to create another 150, according to Emem.
For Pérez, the plaza’s significance is personal. His grandfather worked at Grede Foundry until it closed, and Pérez has watched the site transform into the mixed-use space it is today.
“When we did the groundbreaking here it was a kind of emotional moment for me,” Pérez said. “To see this plaza developed and a new generation that gets to provide for their families – this is a big deal.”
Completion: June 2017
Project cost: $46 million
Milwaukee Business Journal