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Mall Madness
Shop, work, live? Milwaukeeans are flocking to apartments within the ultimate constructed urban space.
Photo by Adam Ryan Morris

Heather Ellis is the envy of her friends. She lives at a mall, Bayshore Town Center, the complex cityscape built on and around the old Bayshore Mall in Glendale. And she loves it.

Ellis, who moved in two years ago while attending UW-Milwaukee, now has a job at Bayshore promoting its events. The 24-year-old shares a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate – and guests. “Everyone wants to come to my place,” she says.

It’s not hard to see why. Her apartment is one of many residential units on floors four through six in one of Bayshore’s central buildings. On the first floor, there’s a Victoria’s Secret, a J. Crew, a California Pizza Kitchen and much more. Everything she might need – a workout, a haircut, food, a clutch of items from the Gap – is but a short stroll down Bayshore’s sidewalks. She rarely leaves.

Bayshore Place, like the $300 million Town Center itself, debuted in 2006, suggesting a return to Main Street. Observers questioned if such a community could arise from a single development team, a single project, a single act of construction. But judging by the 97 percent occupancy rate at Bayshore Place, Ohio developer Steiner and Associates succeeded.

In urban spaces, as at Bayshore, the appeal is proximity. Renters like Ellis “can shop at Trader Joe’s and bring their cart right up to their unit,” according to Nancy Nance, property manager at Bayshore Place. These are renters, not homeowners, by choice, says Victoria Pompizzi, marketing director at Jupiter Communities, the Chicago firm that manages Bayshore Place. “They enjoy the array of resident services, amenities, community atmosphere and peace of mind.”

Bayshore apartments are modestly upscale: Rent ranges from $955 a month for a studio to $2,255 for a three-bedroom, utilities not included. Units feature stainless steel appliances and granite countertops, and the building includes a fitness center and a club room for tenants.

The complex attracts both aging tenants (the bridge-playing set) and more youthful ones like Ellis. “Young people like being around complex urban locations,” says former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, now CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism in Chicago. “They’re less interested in a four-car garage with a large yard and driving five miles to a grocery store.”

Quasi-municipal environs like Bayshore are sprouting up all over the country. They’re found at The Glen Town Center in Glenview, Ill.; at the Belmar shopping development in Lakewood, Colo.; and in suburban Boston at the Natick Mall.

And Downtown Milwaukee has two others, both connected to the Shops of Grand Avenue: Majestic Loft Apartments, located inside the 14-story Majestic Building on Wisconsin Avenue, and Boston Lofts, which occupies four floors of former office space above Boston Store. At both, occupancy rates hover above 95 percent. The former rises from the mall’s northern boundary, and the latter forms the shopping center’s southwestern corner, where it partially overlooks Zeidler Union Square. Terri Lewis, property manager at Boston Lofts, says its tenants count the mall among their regular haunts. Tenant Gary Pond, 63, CEO of a Racine dental company, says he has “frequent-flier status” at Boston Store.

As at Bayshore, walkability is a key selling point for the Grand Avenue developments. But unlike Bayshore, jobs other than those at the adjoining mall are close at hand. “We have a lot of young professionals that like to walk to work,” Lewis says.

Boston Lofts’ 74 units, managed by Mandel Group, rent for $1,346 to $3,810 a month. Amenities include a fitness center, a club room and a rooftop terrace.

In converting four floors to apartments in 2003, Mandel Group tried to preserve the building’s historic character, according to Tracy Bredow, the real estate company’s marketing manager. “There are stained-glass windows in some spots and [original] crown molding, too,” she says. “We tried to salvage as much as we could.” Alongside signs of the building’s past – part of the space was once a dance hall – the complex’s numerous floor plans include maple cabinets, breakfast bars, and stackable washers and dryers.

There’s also history hidden under the roof at Majestic Loft Apartments, where 135 units rent for $495 to $959, depending on size. The building formerly housed the 2,000-seat Majestic Theater, which once hosted acts like Harry Houdini and Jack Benny.

Today, the decade-old apartment complex contains an indoor basketball court, a putting green and a fitness center. There’s even an echo of the building’s past, an 18-seat movie room. Says property manager Renee Dickerson, it’s “one of the most popular amenities.” Popular enough, perhaps, to inspire envy. 

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