Article courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
WAUKESHA – At a place where the tracks once brought countless travelers, an emerging apartment complex will attract people who plan to stay awhile.
Mandel Group’s 116-unit BridgeWalk Apartments, which broke ground in January along St. Paul Avenue west of Madison Street, adds to a landscape of downtown Waukesha high-density living complexes at a time when apartment plans are emerging on the city’s outer edges, particularly near the recently completed West Waukesha Bypass.
There’s no question Waukesha has been steeped in apartment proposals, and that’s no accident. Since 2018, when a housing survey revealed a shortage of apartment options in all categories, including upscale units, the city has fielded numerous plans.
BridgeWalk is the first to follow through in redevelopment areas in the city’s oldest commercial district, in the middle of Waukesha, and fulfills an element that has been on the city’s wish list since the turn of the century.
In 2020, Mandel Group, which had similar plans for Elm Grove and Oconomowoc, began orchestrating a plan for a four-story complex on St. Paul Avenue, in a redevelopment area adjacent to a municipal parking lot.
But there was a lot of history dating further back — in fact, to Waukesha’s early days as a railroad town in the mid-19th-century and into its springs era in the late 19th century.
The site where Mandel’s apartments will stand included a passenger depot and tracks operated by the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad, more commonly known as the Milwaukee Road.
However, time wasn’t kind to the Milwaukee Road or passenger rail traffic through Waukesha. That segment of the Milwaukee Road from what is today Highway F through Waukesha on St. Paul Avenue was eventually abandoned.
The land has sat vacant for decades, long after railroad tracks and the depot were removed. The city used some of the land for a municipal lot and, more recently, for its farmers market.
The neighborhood’s massive revision began early this century with the razing of several old and blighted commercial buildings to the west near Wisconsin Avenue and the subsequent construction of Mill Reserve Condominiums, a series of two-floor units built by Ogden Construction Group.
The redevelopment plan originally was left in the hands of Mill Reserve LLC, which agreed to build additional units to the east of the existing condos. That never happened, resulting in a legal battle in 2015 in which the city claimed the condo developer had reneged on its contract to follow through on plans dating back to 2007.
In 2016, Ogden proposed another development, a 120-unit apartment complex, but that also never materialized.
Mill Reserve LLC eventually sold the land, allowing Mandel to step forward with a more ambitious plan, which hinged a tax-supported funding initiative known as tax-increment financing.
The $30 million apartment complex is expected to generate millions in new taxes, enough to pay off $5.5 million in TIF money extended to Mandel by the city to get the project started. TIF uses new property taxes generated by site improvements to pay for certain costs.
Specifically, Mandel and the city agreed to a $2 million payment upfront. The special tax district will remain open until 2038 unless the $3.5 million balance is offset by new property taxes before that time.
That plan calls for 116 units — with studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom options — and price points currently expected to range from $1,050 to $2,230.
The long complex will essentially be one building with apartments on three or four floors in different spots, all topping one level of underground parking.
Apartment units will include what Mandel describes as “high-quality interior finishes” — stainless steel appliances, designer cabinetry with soft‑close doors and drawers, quartz countertops, wood‑like vinyl plank flooring and in-unit washers and dryers.
But it’s the amenities that Mandel is marketing more than the apartment layouts.
“BridgeWalk’s amenities will include a clubroom with adjoining, covered outdoor space, fitness center, ample and secure bike storage, bike‑repair room, a dog run, car wash, and a spectacular plaza that includes a green roof, covered area with grilling stations, and a fire pit,” Ian Thompson, Mandel’s director of marketing, said in a January announcement marking the official groundbreaking.
Thompson said the complex will also be attractive because of its setting.
“BridgeWalk’s name comes from the immediate connectivity of the development to the Fox River Trail and downtown Waukesha via the pedestrian bridge over the Fox River,” he said. “Mandel Group will bring modern aesthetic and comfortable living to Waukesha’s downtown and BridgeWalk will be prominently positioned on the Fox River.”
In a 2020 interview, Phillip Aiello, Mandel Group’s chief operating officer, indicated BridgeWalk’s positioning close to downtown Waukesha was no accident. It fit in with similar plans in Oconomowoc and Elm Grove.
“Each of these developments has a slightly different appeal, but all of them have a common thread of being located in walkable communities,” Aiello said.
The complex is expected to be completed early in 2023, according to Mandel Group.
BridgeWalk isn’t alone, either in downtown Waukesha or the city as a whole, in providing new apartment spaces. Seven other apartment projects totaling more than 600 units are in various stages of development or approval, all since 2019.
The biggest, at 192 units, involves 2.5 acres off Barstow Street and St. Paul Avenue, just east of Waukesha State Bank, that previously had been considered for another luxury apartment plan, one which fell apart from lack of investors at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
In 2021, General Capital Group and Joseph Property Development picked up where Campbell Capital Group had left off, albeit with a less amenity-filled proposal. The plan envisions three separate buildings of up to five stories, with retail space at the base of one of the buildings.
It would make use of a TIF district initially set up for Campbell. Under terms of the revised TIF, the developers would receive an upfront payment of $2.8 million and reimbursement for up to $4.7 million paid for by new tax earnings between 2024 and 2039.
Work could begin as early as this spring.
The city is also considering plans for City View Apartments, in part using land that was previously part of the Waukesha City Hall campus before the new municipal building was built. It would consist of 77 units.
But that’s smallish in comparison to plans emerging on the outer edges of the city to the north, west and south.
To the south, the 174-unit Village at Fox River luxury apartments, at the southeast corner of Highway 59 and Saylesville Road, is already under construction. It’s a mixed-use development that is also expected to include a convenience store/gas station and future commercial/office.
In that same neighborhood, Cardinal Capital has plans for a 72-unit complex off River Road, though those plans are not yet approved.
Both developments coincided with the 2019 completion of the West Waukesha Bypass, a route that incorporates Les Paul Parkway into a north-south stretch of Merrill Hills Road/Meadowbrook Road for quicker access to Interstate 94’s westbound lanes.
To the west, in what was once the old Fox Run shopping center off St. Paul Avenue and Sunset Drive, The Den at Fox Run, a 72-unit plan, is nearing completion. The site also includes the newest Ascension Wisconsin hospital, which opened in late 2021, and a new Landmark Credit Union branch location. Other commercial uses are planned.
To the north, a smaller apartment project with eight units is under construction on Silvernail Road. The Silvernail TownHomes border the new Avid hotel and the recent Good Harvest Market, which together filled a section of the city that included the redevelopment of a former German restaurant, The Gasthaus, into a new strip mall.
In 2020, city officials pointed to such plans, which at the time also included two apartment complexes near the intersection of White Rock Avenue and Moreland Boulevard, as a sign that developers were reacting to the city’s needs.
“When evaluating new housing projects we look carefully at the city’s recently completed housing study to make sure they are filling gaps in our housing supply,” Jennifer Andrews, Waukesha’s community development director, said in a 2020 interview. “The housing study showed a significant existing shortage of housing. The study identified a need for several different types of housing at varying price points. All of the residential projects fill a need identified in the study.”
Along those same lines, the city is considering plans for a senior apartment complex on Delafield Street across the road from City Hall. More than 100 units could be built under those plans, which are not yet final.