American Family Insurance and MB Acquisition will partner to renovate a 110-year-old downtown Milwaukee landmark, turning a former commercial printing and hosiery manufacturing building into a state-of-the-art office while preserving its historic character.

The building on N. Martin Luther King Drive, commonly known as the Mandel building, will be home to a new multi-purpose American Family office, with space for 400 employees in a variety of roles, including claims, high-tech and community partnerships.

“We’re excited about Milwaukee’s revitalization and want to be part of it,” said Jack Salzwedel, American Family Insurance chair and CEO. “With our new downtown location and increased involvement in the community, we plan to join others in the economic rebirth of Milwaukee and help the city become more equitable, healthy and sustainable.”

American Family will pay to renovate and expand the building with additional floors. Once the work is completed, American Family will lease the building, with an option to purchase it or extend the lease after 10 years.

“Milwaukee is home to diverse groups, large business networks and great universities and community organizations,” added Salzwedel. “We believe the city will be a future technology hub where American Family can help build and draw from a pipeline of potential employees.”

The building will be owned by a newly-created joint venture entity comprised of MB Acquisition, LLC, current owner of the building, and American Family. MB Acquisition, LLC is operated by Joel Lee, president of Van Buren Management and his son, Daniel Lee, the company’s vice president.

“After completing an extensive search of possible sites in downtown Milwaukee, the Mandel location rose to the top as the best location to attract talent and collaborate with the community,” said Kari Grasee, American Family vice president of business and workplace services, which oversees company facilities.

The building is also in a developing business district, with easy access to public transportation, and the structure is solid with beautiful historic architectural character. Used for many years as a print shop for Mandel Graphic Solutions, the location has been home to a variety of businesses. It was built in 1909 for the Phoenix Hosiery company, which manufactured silk stockings and hosiery.

“Our goal is to have the work and activities in the building be as innovative and inspirational as the building itself,” said Justin Cruz, American Family vice president of inclusive excellence. Cruz said American Family is committed to new and creative ways to attract and retain diverse and tech-savvy talent, including millennials who want to live in an urban area.

Estimated time to renovate the building is 2-3 years. When it is completed, approximately 200-250 employees, mostly in claims, will relocate to the building from American Family’s current office in Pewaukee. Approximately 150 additional employees will work in the building from other functions.

Those functions will include technology and data science, community investments and partnerships, and an American Family sales and agent recruitment center. It will also contain a public space called DreamBank, which will host community events and have staff and resources to help people pursue their personal aspirations.

“One of our goals with this project was to find a way to be part of the effort to address the disparities issues facing Milwaukee. Having a dedicated company like American Family join with other local companies committed to achieving this goal is a win for our city,” said Joel Lee.

American Family Insurance is partnering in areas important to the Milwaukee community including education, the arts and sports. The investments are designed to reach and support a broad cross-section of Milwaukee residents while increasing the company’s name recognition and visibility.

Partnerships include a $1 million, four-year investment in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s new Lubar Entrepreneurship Center, a focal point for entrepreneurship education and programs in the Milwaukee area. The center is a cross-disciplinary collaboration that features classrooms for courses and workshops, gathering spots for speakers, and labs for prototyping products and software.

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Lee Matz