By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Nov 02, 2022 at 10:09 AM

In addition to buying the naming rights for a new riverfront dog park under I-794 – as first reported here last year – Fromm Nieman Brands, which owns Fromm Family Pet Foods and Foxtown Brewery in Mequon – has purchased the adjacent vacant lot for a new taproom, distillery and restaurant.

The venue is expected to be a larger version of Foxtown’s Mequon location, which opened in 2019 on a former brewery site that still has its original subterranean lagering cellars.

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(FOXTOWN RENDERINGS: Stephen Perry Smith Architects)
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Plans for the 28,000-square-foot, three-story taproom, distillery and restaurant development – to be called Foxtown Landing – include a large pet-friendly outdoor space adjacent to the river, a balcony and rooftop patio.

“This is a generational opportunity to reinvent a long dormant, underutilized, but highly visible area of Downtown into what will be a true destination that enhances Downtown’s quality of life and bridges the gap between the Historic Third Ward and Westown neighborhoods,” said Matt Dorner, economic development of Milwaukee Downtown BID #21, who is leading the dog park project, with Paul Schwartz, executive director of Milwaukee Public Market and Business Improvement District #2.

The 1.4-acre site – currently owned by Walkers Landing Associates – is located at 412 N. Plankinton Ave., at St. Paul Avenue, across the street from The Pritzlaff. It is just steps away from one of The Hop streetcar stops.

The lot was one of the early sites considered by The Tap Yard for its Downtown beer garden that ultimately opened this past summer at Schlitz Park.

“Fromm Family Pet Food has a widely respected reputation as a business leader, pet food innovator and community builder which they’ve built over five generations as a family-owned and operated company," said Schwartz.

"We’re thrilled to have them provide their leadership and vision as our title sponsor and are grateful for their investment in this legacy project.”

According to Schwartz, the new development could create an opportunity for the dog park to grow in size.

"It could very likely be expanded from the original site plan you saw given the private development," he told me. "Fromm’s experience in the pet world and understanding of the dog community has resulted in us being actively involved in conversations related to how their development could open up room for expanded space in the dog park. That would be a win-win for everyone. So it’s quite possible."

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(DOG PARK RENDERING: GRAEF)
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The off-leash dog park – designed by Downtown-based GRAEF – and adjacent Foxtown development, designed by Stephen Perry Smith Architects, will be connected by a new section of riverwalk nearly 400 feet long.

The city thought it was getting a dog park and now it’s getting a lot more.

“Milwaukee is rich in history, as is the Fromm brand and our family," said Fromm President Tom Nieman. "When we learned about the dog park project, we began exploring the larger opportunity to develop a true ‘dog district’ where people and their pets can gather along the river at the nexus of where the Historic Third Ward and Downtown meet.

“With dog ownership rapidly increasing in recent years in the greater Downtown area, we see this as a natural fit for us and a game changer for the City of Milwaukee.”

The sale of the naming rights to the dog park pushes that project closer to its fundraising goal, according to Dorner.

“We think this development will be a fantastic complement to the dog park and make it a true destination,” said Schwartz.

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Two views of the 1881 building that stood on the site. (PHOTOS: City of Milwaukee)
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An 1881 warehouse building on the site was razed decades ago and the site has remained vacant since.

The development and riverwalk are contingent on Fromm acquiring a narrow city-owned lot along St. Paul Avenue. That land was home to a smaller 1850s building that was razed in 1966.

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"The City has been engaged with us and Fromm team throughout this process about the public sliver of land," said Schwartz. "Our sense is that the City has always felt this public parcel would be part of the eventual private parcel acquisition, as long as the project made sense and included public access. 

"Our opinion is that this project checks off those boxes. Although it’s subject to City approval, we feel Fromm’s justification for acquiring the public parcel is a strong one."

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

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.