By August, a mostly vacant triplet of West Milwaukee Street storefronts will be transformed into loft-style apartments with off-street parking and a private courtyard.
But first, one of the historic buildings at 415-419 W. Milwaukee St. will have to be razed and part of its front rebuilt from the ground up.
Property owner and developer Mick Gilbertson said demolition crews working on the former Russell/Davis House property near the corner of Milwaukee and Academy streets plan to completely raze the building’s three-story brick portion and rebuild part of its front 15 feet high.
The façade will shield a private courtyard for those living in a pair of loft apartments Gilbertson plans to build above the two storefronts to the east. The apartments would put the upper floors of a circa-1870 hotel back into use after years of vacancy.
Crew members from Corporate Contractors Inc. said they plan to use bricks from the three-story building being razed to rebuild a façade that replicates the historic first-floor front of the hotel.
Among the façade’s features, the contractors said, will be a doorway and a set of arched windows that likely will be built from curved brick and stone used in the building’s original windows.
Gilbertson, who is an architect by trade, said he considered saving the entire building, but it was “uninhabitable” after a former owner left it vacant with a leaking roof and no power, plumbing and heat for too long. Saving it would have cost more than an apartment project could ever recover, Gilbertson said.
“So we salvaged 9,000 bricks to rebuild part of its façade, the Russell House, bringing back what was originally there on the ground level. We’re kind of re-creating that space as a courtyard,” Gilbertson said.
The courtyard will be open to tenants of the future apartments and employees of Jax Custom Printing next door, Gilbertson said.
“Jax people can come out there and have a coffee break,” Gilbertson said.
Gilbertson has planned for years to renovate the upper floors of 415 and 417 W. Milwaukee St., but the project stalled because of housing market conditions.
Late last month, Gilbertson got moving on the project.
He said renovations for apartments could be finished by late summer or early fall.
Gilbertson has said he’ll market the apartments to tenants looking for spacious units in a downtown setting. They will be two-bedroom, two-bath units with 17-foot ceilings, exposed brick walls, upper-floor lofts and spiral stairs.
The project is in a stretch of West Milwaukee Street that for years has been marred by long-term vacancy.
Gilbertson said although the property is within boundaries of the city’s downtown TIF district, his apartment and courtyard project will be completely privately funded.
“We’ve got things pretty well in mind and going ahead,” Gilbertson said. “I just felt it was a kind an important project to get going in terms of creating some housing downtown, a little bit of off-street parking and re-creating a unique space.”