Located on Milwaukee’s northwest side, Community Within the Corridor is a mixed-use redevelopment that sprawls across seven acres totaling 406,000 SF. It’s an historic renovation adapting the former industrial complex into a mixed-use residential community. The project began in February 2021 and was recently turned over to the owner this month.
The site consists of seventeen industrial and manufacturing buildings sitting on two blocks at the intersection of 32nd Street and Center Street. Uncovered foundation plans date back to early 1920’s with previous tenants including Harley-Davidson, small hardware stores and furniture stores, and light to large-scale manufacturing businesses, with the latest occupant being Briggs & Stratton.
Assessing the Unknowns
Managing renovations of historic century-old buildings is never an easy task, especially on a project of this magnitude paired with its long-standing industrial past. Add in 25+ years of abandonment, and the site fell into further neglect, deterioration, instability.
This culminates in a perfect storm of unforeseen conditions that arise as the project progresses which require continuous innovation and strategy to adapt, meet, and in some cases, exceed the historic and structural requirements. This is most notable in the team’s approach to assess and correct the buildings’ overall structural integrity along with masonry, flooring, and roofing.
For CWTC, it all began with abatement. The team enlisted Integrity Environmental to handle abatement – a full gut and clean of all buildings which included lead, asbestos, and existing furnishings/equipment removal. This lengthy process spanned roughly six months due to the extent of the scope, but the quality of work allowed the team to be nearing construction completion in some areas while abatement continued in others.
Demolition is where the unknown conditions and state of the buildings’ structural fragility surfaced. The team could finally see the extent of deterioration that was initially covered up by existing material which allowed them to assess the damage on site and adapted accordingly. The bulk of this assessment comprised the timber columns, beams, and floor joists.
After assessment, the team employed a variety of construction types to properly correct the issues within historic requirements and meet design intent. This required the team to manage a variety of trade contractors simultaneously throughout the site while ensuring quality of work and maintenance of the schedule. Construction types included wood framing, concrete framing, and metal framing.
One of the most affected areas turned out to be Building 1D, which is the main entrance off Center Street. At the original two-story structure, the roof and floor collapsed prior to start of construction which meant a complete ground-up rebuild and repairs to the foundations. The team also lowered the entrance to gain access off Center Street which entailed underpinning of the existing footings and foundations.
Reverting to ‘Like-New’
The masonry envelope proved to be a case for meticulous assessment and cause for conviction. The team enlisted KMI Masonry to handle all masonry demolition, repairs and reconstruction and maintain historical character and quality. This included reconstructing the entire northwest corner of Building 1B and the north façade of Building 4 due to the state of deterioration. The masonry scope also included repairs to archways and windowsills, numerous parapet restorations and spot infills from removed existing mechanicals, with all work required to look original.
Roof conditions were extremely fragile, and in some cases, a total loss. Every building required some amount of reconstruction and/or repatching. Majority of the scope focused on the largest building on-site – Building 1B. The team enlisted Titan Building Supply for structural repairs and Roofed Right to handle waterproofing and installation of new roofing.
With poor existing roof conditions, every building showed considerable interior water damage – not ideal when tasked with reusing the existing hardwood floors. In order to keep in check with the National Parks Service (NPS) historic preservation standards, the team enlisted Integrity Environmental to remove and store the original boards while Schmidt Custom Flooring de-nailed each individual board, processed, cleaned, and relayed the floorboards with refinishing on-site. Restoration of the hardwood floors occurred post structural assessment and repairs of all floor joists, planes, and decking.
Restoring, Repurposing, Revamping
One of the most daunting, dangerous, and difficult tasks centered around two smokestacks that stood approximately 120’ tall at the West Block and 160’ tall at the East Block. Structural stability of the stacks diminished over years of decay, neglect, and exposure to harsh conditions which significantly compromised safety for the site and future residents. However, they could not be completely demolished as they fell under protection of historic preservation standards. The real issue lay within the location of each stack. The stacks were part of initial construction and as the years progressed, subsequent buildings went up around each. Navigating cranes and heavy equipment through tight corners to reach the compact pockets where each stack laid meant complex construction logistics. However, the team adapted and detailed innovative paths to reach each stack. Working with the NPS, the team arrived at a solution that allowed for partial demolition and foundation reinforcement. Now, the stacks stand at 15’ and 30’ tall respectively, maintaining their historic character while paying tribute to the site’s industrial past.
Due to the historic standards set forth for these buildings, the new MEPFP systems could not run through a drop ceiling via the corridors which meant all systems ran through adjacent units. This added a higher degree of difficulty in order to keep the systems hidden and not affect the quality of construction or protection of the fire-rated walls. The team enlisted Blair Fire Protection to handle all fire protection systems and ratings.
In Building 4, nearly 600 feet of skylights ran the length of the roof, and all needed to be replaced. The team enlisted Titan Building Supply to repair the framing and widen the openings in order to fit the new, modern, and more efficient skylights. Solar Design installed the new specialty skylight windows. In addition, every window for all seventeen buildings needed to be replaced. The team enlisted B&D Contractors to remove existing windows and measure and install new windows.
Besides reusing the original hardwood flooring, other recovered elements were incorporated into the final design. These included existing signage found on-site used for navigational purposes, sliding fire doors and pieces of equipment and materials used as decorative installations to pay homage to the site’s industrial past as well.
The size of the site required a significant amount of earthwork and landscaping in order to revitalize the neglected property and make modern. One of the most significant improvements is a rainwater collection system. As part of a green effort, the team installed a large underground rainwater collection system to capture and reuse for the property’s landscaping. The team enlisted Villani Landscaping and Marohl for exterior site improvements and earthwork.
A Residence for the Community
The project is currently the largest privately-owned affordable housing development in the State of Wisconsin and relied on a number of funding sources including TIF, State, and Federal tax credits. The project also garnered approvals and permits from various governing agencies like the National Parks Service (NPS) which has jurisdiction over buildings that earn historic tax credits. It is truly a multi-partner development which required the team to facilitate detailed and consistent communication with the entire project team.
Not only is it for the community, but it was also built by the community. For the project, the team had a goal of fulfilling work completed by 25% local SBE and 40% Residential Preferred Program. This meant, a certain percentage of work must be completed by local Small Business Enterprises and employ a certain percentage of local residents to construct the project. The team achieved 28% SBE and 44% RPP.
Lastly, Community Within the Corridor improves the neighborhood not just by the aesthetic but by opportunity. The project restores a neglected and blighted property into a mixed-use residential community. The project offers 197 affordable housing units and includes amenities like a commercial laundromat, small grocery store, daycare, after-school programming, small business incubator, and a multimedia production studio for audio / visual / storyteller creators. It also features a 70,000 SF recreation center that includes two basketball courts and multiple children’s activity and play areas. The goal of the redevelopment is to foster personal development, community growth, and inspire investment in the surrounding area.
We are incredibly proud of the hard work and dedication displayed by our project team. Their determination, team dynamics, forethought, and agility on-site were major contributing factors to the progression and success of the project, which is multiplied on an historic renovation of this magnitude. This gratitude is also extended to each trade contractor and laborer who contributed on-site. Historic renovations always present a certain measure of unknowns, yet the team remained vigilant and innovative. We would like to recognize Daniel Grams, Project Manager, Josh Bruesewitz, Project Manager, Gene Widenski, Superintendent, Angelo Rodriguez, Assistant Superintendent, and Ryan Hermes, Project Engineer. The architect is Continuum Architects.
Lastly, we would like to thank the owners, Scott Crawford, Inc. and Roers Companies, for selecting Greenfire as their trusted construction partner.