On Wednesday, March 2nd, the Real Estate Club hopped on a Badger Bus and went on a trek to Milwaukee to the Building Blocks – Building Connections at the Echelon event hosted by NAIOP Wisconsin and the Mandel Group.
The event was at Echelon, an apartment complex developed by Mandel Group in Wauwatosa. According to the Milwaukee Business Journal, “The Echelon Apartments project at Innovation Campus in Wauwatosa offers an unusual marriage of nature and history in an urban environment.” The property is near the Milwaukee Medical College of Wisconsin campus, adjacent to a 55 acre Milwaukee County Grounds Park and a monarch butterfly sanctuary.
After arriving, club members had the opportunity to network with over 100 other students from Marquette University and local real estate professionals from the Commercial Association of REALTORS Wisconsin (CARW), NAIOP Wisconsin, The Associates in Commercial Real Estate (ACRE), and the Wisconsin Chapter of Commercial Real Estate Women Network (WCREW). Following the networking opportunities, club members listened to a presentation by Barry Mandel, Chairman and CEO of Mandel Group, and Mark Eppli, Director of the James A. Graaskamp Center for Real Estate.
To start, Barry Mandel took the listeners through a journey of time. Starting in 1911, the property was developed by the distinguished architect, Alexander Eschweiler, for the Milwaukee County School of Agriculture. Shortly after opening, the school closed its doors due to low enrollment in 1928. The property then had a mix of various uses, none that lasted, so the building fell into great disrepair. Traveling forward to 2010, Barry Mandel started to eye the property. Mandel had always admired Eschweiler’s work, especially since he lived in a home designed by Eschweiler, so he was driven to preserve this architectural gem. When the Mandel Group toured the property, the Milwaukee Police Department used the dilapidated buildings for SWAT team training.
After a lengthy planning process, the Mandel Group ultimately completed a plan for the site, but complete historic preservation of all of the buildings was not financially feasible. Mandel tried to sell some of the buildings to others who wished to rehabilitate them for $1, but his efforts were unsuccessful. To start the project, Mandel had to find a unique way to preserve the historical significance of the site while also meeting required investor returns. The proposed solution was to deconstruct two of the buildings on the property and repurpose them into garden terraces. This idea allowed the property to retain the architectural significance of Eschweiler while making the project feasible. The final step of this process was to confirm that this was the morally correct decision to make. To do this, Mandel tracked down the remaining Eschweiler architect, who was 91 at the time, to see if he approved of preserving one building and repurposing two more. After his blessing, the project could proceed, yet, Mandel wanted to ensure they were a good neighbor to everyone, so they made even more adjustments to the plan. A neighbor who was expected to be negatively impacted by the new buildings was a neighboring butterfly sanctuary since there would be less sunlight during prime mating months. As a result, Mandel completed a sun study and removed a floor from one of the buildings, which resulted in the loss of 4 apartment units but preserved the neighboring sanctuary. Today, after almost ten years of planning and developing, the completed development is a true gem in the community. Echelon creates harmony between nature, history, and the community.
Mandel concluded his presentation by stressing the importance of maintaining a moral compass and relationships in the real estate development industry.
Next, Mark Eppli rounded out the presentation by discussing James Graaskamp and how he would have been proud of Mandel’s work. Eppli stressed the relationships between space consumers, developers, and public infrastructure, all of which are related to Graaskamp’s model of the Real Estate Process.
Thank you, Barry Mandel and the Mandel Group, for generously sponsoring this event and hosting our students for this special learning experience!