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Final work underway as Welford Sanders Historic Lofts prepares for occupancy

After more than a year of renovations, the 1916 industrial building used by the Nunn Bush shoe company will begin filling up with renters and fulfill the dream of Welford Sanders to give area families an affordable place to live.

The last phase of the Welford Sanders Historic Lofts development began in February 2017 and three floors will be completed this month for rental occupancy at the beginning of March. The $21 million project was a historic renovation that transformed the underutilized and deteriorating building into office space and 59 new housing units. One of the important but least talked about features of the new space is the top floor community room.

“This space is what made it historic. Unlike other factories of the time, Nunn Bush actually celebrated its workers. The top floor had their cafeteria and break room,” said Robert Lemke, president of Wisconsin Redevelopment. “It had the best view from the best room in the building. So the workers were rewarded by giving them these amenities.”

Securing federal and state historic tax credits, along with the federal affordable housing tax credits, were critical in structuring the complex financing arrangement for the project. As a condition of the funding from the City of Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA), the development team was required to meet a SBE participation level, including the goal of using 40% locally underemployed or unemployed workers in the construction labor force. Lemke was proud to report that they exceeded those expectations.

When the building opens to tenants, it will include a pool room, exercise room, theater room with big screen TV, a common room with gourmet kitchen, and panoramic views of downtown Milwaukee. The wooden floors were also reclaimed from original materials.

Many apartments on the top floor have skylights, and the old South section of the building still has beautiful wood support beams. Underground parking was added for residents by excavating a space under the building. An area in the central courtyard has already been set aside for a Welford Sanders statue, which has raised about half the funds it needs to complete. The memorial will honor Sanders, who worked tenaciously to help secure the building that has since been named after him.

Lemke said that the top three floors will be ready for tenants at the end of this month, with families moving in on March 1 for a full occupancy of the completed space.

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