In 2017, Que El-Amin was still getting his feet wet as a real estate developer, focusing on single-family homes and duplexes, when veteran broker Jennifer Green (from Commercial Realty Advisors in Milwaukee) approached him about a mothballed industrial property on the city’s North Side. The former Briggs and Stratton headquarters at 33rd and Center streets sprawls across a city block and a half and has sat unused for decades. Green, who specializes in industrial and commercial properties, thought this could provide raw material for Que and his brother, Khalif ElAmin, to mold a $60 million development with residential and commercial portions. Green had shown Que a similar property in Sheboygan, but that deal had fallen through.
At 33, Que is at an interesting age for a developer – old enough to have some experience and young enough to be highly ambitious. He and Khalif charted out the project, building by building, hoping it could bring investment to the neighborhood while remaining affordable. But to make such a grand vision a reality, they needed the financial backing of a serious investor and met with many from Milwaukee and elsewhere, most of whom weren’t interested in committing large sums of money to two young developers with grand plans. At last, after many site tours, a Minneapolis firm called Roers Investments signed on.
The project will have three phases, adding up to 195 apartments at affordable rents: from $298 for the cheapest studio to $1,090 for the most expensive four-bedroom unit. Que plans a jigsaw of other uses, including a business incubator, day care center and after-school program. A sports facility will offer basketball, volleyball, indoor soccer, a putting green and skate park. Que hopes a maker space in the complex will become an incubator in its own right.
Earlier this year, Que and Khalif were waiting as state and federal authorities reviewed their applications for tax credits, which will make up most of the project’s first round of financing. City approval is more assured with the backing of Ald. Russell Stamper.
Even with complete financing, the project would take a few years to complete. But Que says he has seen how similar developments have attracted investment to struggling sections of other cities, including Houston and Atlanta. “They changed the character of the neighborhoods around them.”