Prospect Mall, the well-known East Side location with a somewhat dusty image, has been sold to an investment partnership with Milwaukee and Chicago roots. Despite the building’s familiarity to East Siders, its popularity as a destination had not reached its potential, and some tenants have closed their doors.
A limited liability corporation, BV/LP, was established in March of 2004 to acquire the 41,900 square-foot building as well as the parking lot across from the mall on Prospect Avenue. The transaction—estimated to be in the low-to-mid seven figures—closed May 19, 2004. Robert Schmidtke of Milwaukee’s Boulder Venture firm, along with Roger Levin of Levin Properties of Northbrook, Illinois and another Chicago real estate investor, Scott Perlson, are the members of the LLC. The LLC’s initials stand for Boulder Venture/Levin Perlson.
The aging mall’s tenants have dwindled, with two closing their doors in recent years: Thai Joe’s and Video Visions. Body Ritual, a tattoo parlor; Recycled Books & Music, Kosta’s White Manor, and the Chocolate Factory remain in the building. Qdoba’s, the Mexican restaurant, was recently added by the prior owner as a tenant on an out-lot in the parking lot opposite the mall. According to Levin, most existing tenant leases are no longer than two to three years.
Says Levin, “Our plans are to ultimately redevelop [the building] to a better use; a different [tenant] mix.” There are no firm plans with potential larger tenants who could occupy a significant block of the building. Levin, whose prior ventures include doing the real estate component to Chicago’s Harry Cary’s Restaurant, said the Prospect Mall site was attractive because it was in a trendy area, with a diverse age group—including having a student population nearby. Although Levin clearly signaled a “wait-and-see” attitude about future plans for the building, he did acknowledge that the new owners would consider razing the site if they came to the conclusion that a rebuild was the site’s highest and best use.
Jim Plaisted of the East Side Business Improvement District would like to see BV/LP pursue a mixed-use development of the site. This desire comes from Plaisted’s belief that “residential drives retail.” He had been dismayed earlier in his tenure as the East Side BID director that of 70 commercial buildings in the BID, there were only 100 residential units. He does not think the Prospect Mall site will end up in its current manifestation of only one or two stories, although he acknowledges that any significant residential development will have to meet parking challenges.
The Prospect Mall transaction is the latest addition to the flurry of activity—or at least the buzz—occurring east of the river. Recently Boris Gokhman and others purchased the Oriental/Landmark Building along with a 22,500-square-foot parking lot at 1835 E. Kenilworth Plaza (near Beans & Barley Restaurant), with resultant speculation that more mixed-use development could be on its way.
Speculation continues about what Columbia St. Mary’s will do nearby with their expansion plans on E. North Avenue, and on June 16, the state Building Commission at last approved a renovation plan of the 500,000 square-foot Kenilworth building, and selected Weas Development Co. as the developer. The project will involve splitting the building into two (in its current state, the Kenilworth building is actually two buildings, one built in 1908 and the other in 1941), with a greenway path to the bike trails on the south end of the property, and would include a seven-story condo tower on the south end of the property, according to Plaisted.
All the waiting for final plans from East Side developers may leave some small tenants feeling helpless. Luke Lavin, who has operated Farwell Music in the Oriental/Landmark Building at 2218 N. Farwell for six years, does not appear too fazed about having a new landlord (Gokhman) with unclear intentions. Says Lavin, “It’s better to be in the dark than on the street.”
Riverwest Currents online edition - July, 2004