Milwaukee’s Downtown mall, the Shops of Grand Avenue, describes itself as a historical landmark. But unlike other highly visible city landmarks – the Calatrava-designed Milwaukee Art Museum addition or the Miller Park dome – the little-advertised mall seems in danger of becoming more of an urban legend than a destination.
Adding insult to injury are the various proposals to tear down Boston Store, or the entire mall, to make room for an arena.
Once heralded as the key to reviving Downtown, the 32-year-old mall struggles, despite an overhaul that added offices, apartments and a YMCA.
All downtown malls aren’t dying, according to Carl Landis of CBL & Associates Properties, which owns malls across the country, including Brookfield Square. “It depends on the city,” he says.
In Chicago; Dallas; Austin, Texas; Minneapolis; San Antonio, Texas, and other cities, downtown malls are thriving, says national retail consultant Jim Dion, of Chicago-based Dionco. But those downtowns have more residents and tourists.
Grand Avenue management says the mall’s unconventional design of three blocks of buildings is challenging. “Milwaukee has very little residential base Downtown,” hence the mall’s move toward mixed-use, says C. Michelle Panovich of Mid-America Asset Management, a commercial real estate company that manages Grand Avenue.
City officials estimate more than 45,000 people live in Milwaukee’s “greater Downtown,” stretching west to Marquette University, north to North Avenue and south to Walker’s Point. Since 2000, the Downtown population has risen by 25.5 percent.
But David Price, a Realtor who specializes in Downtown condos, says affluent residents tend to live closer to Lake Michigan or the Milwaukee River than Grand Avenue.
“There are only three condos in that whole area, and one of those is the Moderne, with only 14 condos in the whole building,” Price says. Housing nearer to Grand Avenue caters to students and lower-income renters, he says.
Can Grand Avenue be revived? We asked the experts.
Water Tower Place photo courtesy of Water Tower Place; Lego store photo courtesy of The LEGO Group; Plankinton Avenue photo by Kay Nolan; Stone Creek photo by Patrick Castro/LP/w Studio; street photo by wiwoods/iStock