June 19, 2017–MILWAUKEE–State and local officials joined community leaders and industry partners for a combined ribbon cutting/ground breaking ceremony at Welford Sanders Historic Lofts to celebrate the opening of renovated office space and kick off construction of the residential portion of the project, which is located at 2821 N. 4th Street.

Welford Sanders Historic Lofts is a $21 million historic renovation that Continuum Architects + Planners is doing of an underutilized and deteriorating 190,000 sq. ft. industrial building built in 1916 as a Nunn Bush shoe factory. The project is named in memory of former Martin Luther King Drive Economic Development Corporation (MLKEDC) executive director, Welford Sanders, who passed away unexpectedly in May 2015. The project is a joint venture between MLKEDC and Wisconsin Redevelopment.  It includes renovation of approximately 38,000 sq. ft. of office space (formerly the Milwaukee Enterprise Center) and the creation of 59 new housing units, creating a “walk-to-work” environment. The current phase of renovation and construction on the building started in February 2017 and will be complete in March 2018.

“This project demonstrates the important role public-private ventures play in our state’s economic development,” said Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. “It is inspiring to see the positive repurposing of an historic building into an economic generator and job generator for the Milwaukee neighborhood.”

“The successful renovation of this historic building is critical to the ongoing stability and revitalization of the Harambee neighborhood,” said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.  “This project is also a fitting tribute to the vision and legacy of the late Welford Sanders, who, as executive director of the MLKEDC, was a driving force in the renewal of Martin Luther King Drive and the Harambee neighborhood.”

The renovated office space is being leased to the previous tenants of the Milwaukee Enterprise Center who are involved in eliminating barriers to employment with collaborative job training and other supportive services for unemployed and hard-to-employ Milwaukee residents and is scheduled to be completed on June 19th. Associated Bank sponsored the Community Center in the new Welford Sanders Enterprise Center. “We are proud to play an active role in this project,” said Associated Bank president and CEO Phil Flynn. “Through our financial support and ongoing commitment to providing financial education programming, we hope to create opportunities for individuals, families and businesses to fully participate in and share the rewards of building economic stability in our community.”  

The residential portion of the development includes indoor parking and other exceptional amenities for the residents and will open in March 2018.  A life size statue of Welford Sanders is being commissioned and will be placed in the building’s courtyard to commemorate his significant contributions to Milwaukee and this neighborhood, including his desire to improve the lives of individuals and families via affordable housing.

Tax Credits and Project Financing

The securing of federal and state historic tax credits along with the federal affordable housing tax credits were critical in structuring the complex financing structure.  These commitments were made possible through three State of Wisconsin agencies: The Wisconsin State Historical Society, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA), all of which made significant financial and staff time commitments. Through the sale of these indispensable tax credits, the development has raised approximately $14 million in private sector investment dollars. The State of Wisconsin through WHEDA also provided long-term debt and TIF financing as well as construction financing. The City of Milwaukee, through the leadership of Alderwoman Milele Coggs, provided a much-needed TIF investment and made a significant commitment of HOME funds.

Project Significance, Jobs, and Job Center

This building is the neighborhood’s largest structure and it has great historic significance; however, it was quickly deteriorating and becoming a blighting influence. With the renovation now underway, the building is being transformed into Welford Sanders Historic Lofts, a mixed-use development job center including a much-needed housing option currently not available in this neighborhood. The completed project will build off other neighborhood development activities which have occurred over the past 10 years. The project’s architect is Continuum Architects + Planners and the general contractor is Catalyst Construction.

The project is expected to average 70 full-time construction jobs monthly for over a one-year construction period at family-supporting wages. The development team will exceed the City of Milwaukee and WHEDA’s required SBE participation level, including the goal of using 40% locally underemployed or unemployed workers in the construction labor force. Additionally, the Welford Sanders Historic Lofts will create and/or support permanent jobs in an area of Milwaukee’s greatest need. Conveniently situated on a city bus route, the facility has 38,000 square feet of office and light manufacturing space that has the potential to support and train hundreds of underemployed or unemployed individuals with permanent jobs. An “employment partnership” has been developed with the like-minded agencies currently located within the building that want to expand their collaborative efforts to address barriers to employment and help area residents achieve self-sufficiency through sustainable employment. These include Milwaukee Job Works, the Alma Center, and Project Return. The remaining commercial office rents are priced below market to further enhance needed services to area residents.

About Welford Sanders

Welford Sanders became involved in the MLKEDC in the 1990s and was named executive director of the nonprofit in 2001. In this capacity, he led significant redevelopment efforts, including the four previous King Drive Commons phases totaling approximately $25 million in development costs.  He worked tenaciously to help secure the building now named in his honor. He also was an Assistant Adjunct Professor at UW-Milwaukee’s School of Architecture and Urban Planning specializing in urban redevelopment, neighborhood planning and housing redevelopment. The current Welford Sanders Historic Lofts development participants include one former colleague and a former student of Mr. Sanders: Carolyn Esswein of UWM Community Design Solutions and Corey Lapworth, NCARB, AIA, CDT, principal with Continuum Architects + Planners.

“Welford Sanders’ unforgettable crusade to eliminate urban blight and solidify neighborhoods left us a life lesson that historic rehabs on scattered sites should not be viewed as impossible, but doable,” said Wyman Winston, executive director of the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority. “The Welford Sanders Historic Lofts is a lasting testament to his devotion to Milwaukee and the progress he brought to its neighborhoods.”