OK, I'll admit that when I first heard that the former Blue Cross Blue Shield office building at 401 W. Michigan St., on the southwest corner of 4th and Michigan was going to be transformed, I was skeptical.
With all the beautiful old buildings that are pulled down for new developments, this 11-story place, built in 1973 and empty since 2006, was going to be saved?
But I guess there's a reason that the group that transformed the roughly 250,000-square foot place – designed by Brust Zimmerman Architects and enlarged in 1977 – in The Buckler is called Phoenix Development Partners.
After taking a tour of the new apartment complex, which opened to tenants in November and has commitments for about 20 percent of its 207 units, I have a new appreciation of how some under-appreciated buildings can be given new life.
1. A dog spa
Yes, when it is complete, there will be a washing station, grooming table and more for the furriest (I hope) tenants.
A hardwood basketball court, so you can squeak like the pros in your own building.
3. Party and conference rooms
Let's face it, you might never have to leave.
4. A front yard
You're a renter, living in Downtown Milwaukee, but that doesn't mean you can't grill out, read a book in your own yard or cuddle around the fire pit.
5. A brand spankin' new workout room
So, you can get ready to kick the competition to the curb on that basketball court.
The sprawling space outside the triangular building is greener than ever, which is good news not just for tenants but for everyone that passes by.
7. The views
Many of the apartments have really nice views of Downtown Milwaukee. Some also face west and offer a panorama that includes Miller Park.
8. The great outdoors
The first-floor townhouses have private patios and the top floor apartments have enclosed decks, too.
9. Variety of shapes and sizes
The more than 200 units boast more than 100 different floor plans, including studios starting at $995 and large two-bedroom units topping out at $3,128.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.