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New Lease on Life for Kenilworth Building

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For the past several years, UW-Milwaukee has struggled to find housing and classroom space for its growing population. One solution is the Kenilworth building, 1925 E. Kenilworth Pl., on the corner of N. Prospect and N. Farwell Avenues. Built in 1914, the former Ford assembly plant was later sold to the federal government, which leased it to defense contractors. The university took the building over in 1971, using it mainly as storage space. Since at least 2002, however, the five-story building has been marked for housing and retail space. The building, which is set to be completed in the fall of 2006, will be remodeled and converted into a conglomeration of 300 to 500 student housing units, parking, retail space, 103,000 square feet for UWM’s Peck School of the Arts and private condos. Weas Development, whose proposal was accepted after a struggle over finding a developer, will split the building in half. The building on Farwell Avenue and the one on Prospect Avenue will share a walkway that will be connected to the bike path near the buildings. In mid-November, the state building commission gave a final approval to the $68.7 million project. Construction is expected to begin in late winter or early spring 2005. The building is expected to be completed for the 2006-2007 school year. The remodeled building will serve not only students, but the community, said Jim Plaisted, executive director of the East Side Business Improvement District. “It has the potential to do more,” he said. “Our goals include enhanced retail space. The building caters not only to students, but will serve the community as a whole.” According to 523 retail preferences survey on the East North Avenue BID conducted by UWM’s Urban Planning graduate students, 75 percent of respondents shop in the area at least once a month and half of the respondents shop there weekly. The 500,000-square-foot space will also energize property values and include 25 to 30 units of condos, Plaisted said. The murals on the side of the building will probably be removed during construction, he added. The building will have “tremendous positive impact” on the neighborhood, said 3rd district alderman Mike D’Amato, an advocate of city-wide urban housing for students. “It’s a model for universities and cities around the country,” he said. D’Amato said he does not anticipate problems with bringing more students into the area. “This is not a dorm,” he said. “It’s an apartment building.” He added that the building will house older students, including graduate students and students with families. Housing applicants will be screened by a panel and arrangements will be made with Watertower Land Trust and UWM, which will monitor the residents in the building. The Prospect Avenue mall, another retail space in the area, was sold in spring 2004 to a group of real estate developers. There are no immediate plans to renovate that building, but the developers will study the direction the Kenilworth building and Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital are going before proceeding, said Plaisted.
by Julia Kolker, photo by Kara Sabado