When future food magnate William Horlick came to the United States from England in 1869, he settled in Racine. A few years later, he went to Chicago to start his food business with his brother James but by 1875 returned to Wisconsin and built a malted milk empire.
The company ceased operations in Racine in 1975, leaving behind a gorgeous complex along Northwestern Avenue, built between 1885 and 1926, that has fallen into disrepair.
Now, Milwaukee developer Josh Jeffers, who loves a good historic property, has taken on the job of turning the nearly 13-acre former Horlick Malted Milk Co. complex into a mixed-use town center, which typically pairs residential and commercial uses together in one development.
Jeffers owns nine properties in the district and will redevelop them as part of a multi-phase plan.
The $100 million Historic Horlick District will be a mix of historic buildings and newly constructed townhomes to create a mixed-use neighborhood with retail, recreation, residential and educational uses.
Specifics include multi-family housing, market-rate townhomes, incubator space for startup businesses and "a state-of-the-art trades-focused workforce training center."
The original Gothic Revival Horlick buildings will be kept and restored, as will brick walkways between them.
"These are fascinating properties with tremendous importance to the history of Racine and our country’s industrial period," said Jeffers in a statement on Thursday morning.
"Behind the facades facing Northwestern Avenue, one can imagine the thriving and buzzing Horlick manufacturing complex that was a source of pride for Racine. We want to restore that pride. We want to embrace the significant history that is still there, and we also want to create a beautiful new neighborhood that will be an economic catalyst, provide multi-family housing within a town center environment to include retail, hospitality and business uses, and connect the site with the multitude of area civic assets."
The development will be somewhat in the spirit of Horlick himself, who had hoped to create more than simply a manufacturing plant for one of the world’s most delectable powders, he hoped it would also be a place for recreation and relaxation. To that end, he made sure the grounds were maintained with care and even added a landscaped lagoon, offering recreational activities for employees.
A postcard view of the lagoon.
Phase one of the project – which will rely on state and federal historic tax credits for financing – will include the complex’s two largest buildings, which will be converted into residential units.
Phase two will focus on commercial spaces like restaurants and potential a brewery and taproom.
"This is a tremendous opportunity to create a new neighborhood and commerce district that restores Racine history and infrastructure into a bustling and promising area of pride for Racine," said Jeffers.
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 can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.