Before the economic downturn of the last decade, housing development – and sales, along Milwaukee’s downtown river were booming. The administration of former Mayor John Norquist and civic leaders at the time championed the resurgence of the historic corridor. It had decayed and people ignored the river. In Tuesday’s installment of our series, Milwaukee River Revival, WUWM’s LaToya Dennis reports that much to the delight of realtors, developers and local leaders, waterfront properties are again moving off the market.
Rick and Marlene Simmons say it was an easy decision to sell their Delafield home and move into Milwaukee’s Third Ward.
“My husband did all the yard work, and I think he had enough of yard work. We wanted to be able to lock the door and leave and just enjoy ourselves,” Marlene says.
So about six months ago, the couple traded suburban life for a 2,800 square foot condo along the Milwaukee River. Units like theirs in the Hanson’s Landing building typically sell for at least $750,000.
The interior is stunning – granite countertops, even artwork Marlene has painted. And then there is the view. From the balcony, you see Milwaukee’s old and new – the huge Rockwell clock towering over old industrial buildings, the sprouting downtown skyline, and boats on the river – including the speedy types.
“Last Saturday we woke up to the rumble, rumble, rumble of boat engines and here there are at least a dozen cigarette boats coming up the river, magnificent,” Marlene says.
Marlene and Rick are also close to Lake Michigan and within walking distance of all the dining, shopping and entertainment the Third Ward has to offer.
Other people are doing what the Simmons did, according to Mary Beth Waite. She owns Metro Condo Connections. Waite says back in 2004, many of the buyers in the Third Ward were from Chicago.
“We don’t see as much of that right now. There’s a lot of people moving in from the suburbs,” Waite says.
Waite says the condo market near the Milwaukee River has been steadily improving since the economic downturn. During the past two years, buyers have caused the number of active listings in downtown Milwaukee to drop from 1,300 to fewer than 400.
“It crosses every age range, it crosses every nationality. People work in all different fields who are living down along the river. The school bus stops in front of Hansen’s Landing Monday thru Friday and picks up the kids,” Waite says.
Over the past 14 years, Developer Rick Barrett has been the man behind many of the Riverfront properties.
“Beerline River Homes and River Court and Park Terrace,” Barrett says.
Barrett owns Barrett Visionary. The company is behind another project going up along the river…the Moderne, at Old World Third Street and Juneau.
"This particular unit double door entrance, coat closet, art niches here, you can see this round rotunda look…” Barrett says.
Construction crews are working on the 4,800 square foot penthouse condo that will sell for $1.4 million.
“This area here becomes your dining room, which seats 18,” Barrett says.
Barrett says there are a couple reasons why he chose this location: proximity to the city center and business district, plus the water. Every unit has a view of the Milwaukee River or Lake Michigan.
“Whenever you have a building or a unit apartment, condo and you’re on either the water or the lake it’s a far more desirable piece of property,” Barrett says.
However, Barrett says in order for these riverfront projects to come to fruition, public support is often required. For instance, the city provided a nine million dollar loan for The Moderne.
Ald. Bob Bauman agrees public dollars are sometimes necessary to get developments off the ground, including, for infrastructure improvements.
“The city has a role because the city wants to see continued growth. We want to see quality design and architecture. Frequently, quality design and architecture is expensive,” Bauman says.
Bauman’s district covers riverfront neighborhoods both downtown and in the Third Ward. He says, within blocks of each other are two of the highest assessed residential buildings in Milwaukee.
“So right there in one stretch of the river in the Third Ward that takes up maybe a grand total of four blocks, you have assessed residential value of over $100 million,” Bauman says.
Bauman says before the economic downturn several additional projects along the river were in the works; he’s confident planning will resume.
Realtor Mary Beth Waite says if you can get past the sticker shock – including your property tax bill, there is something for everyone along the Milwaukee River.