By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Jun 11, 2013 at 11:03 AM

Seven months ago, OnMilwaukee.com needed to move, and move fast.

It wasn’t entirely unexpected.

Having called the East Side our home for the past 14 years, we were already on the lookout for new space. We’d outgrown our old office on North Avenue in several ways, and with the building for sale, we hired our friend and corporate realtor, Steve Palec from Cresa, to find us something better. We just didn’t know what that was.

"Inertia is a powerful thing," says Palec, who’s negotiated deals for the commissioner of baseball, Kohl’s and other clients much larger than the 15-person staff of OnMilwaukee.com. "A lot of people don’t realize that a little bit of effort in exploring what’s out there can open up a lot of different things you’ve never thought about."

Still, we didn’t head too far outside our comfort zone at first, mostly because we didn’t know what we were looking for.

"You’re dissimilar to accounting firms and law firms, but you’re similar to some of my favorite projects," recalls Palec. "What you were cognizant of was the ‘live, work, play’ concept. You couldn’t be talked into the coolest place if you weren’t comfortable with the building."

In fact, we were close on signing a lease at another East Side office last fall when our North Avenue building was sold. That space wasn’t quite for OnMilwaukee.com, so we turned back to Palec with a new request: find us something right away.

Palec, who had himself just moved into CityCenter at 735 N. Water St., suggested we consider his new office building, too, "although I’m space-agnostic," he notes. Two days later, Sheldon Oppermann of Compass Properties gave us keys to temporary space on the second floor and began the process of winning us over to stay at the historic Downtown office building.

"When I saw it was you guys, well, I’d been hoping to do something with you for a long time," says Oppermann, who made the short-term move incredibly smooth. "When you get with people who get it, you want to keep them close."

Even though we weren’t sold on the idea of moving Downtown, Oppermann quickly convinced us. The amenities – like delivered dry cleaning, groceries, bike parking and an amazing concierge service – didn’t hurt, either.

Says Oppermann, "I suggested you come in and try it. If I could get you here, I can help you understand why it’s cool to be here."

What was initially most intriguing to us was the building’s location – at Water and Mason Streets – followed by CityCenter’s work, life balance mantra. But when Palec and Oppermann showed us the raw space they had in mind for us at Suite 1120, we were sold.

But raw space is just that without the vision to turn it into a reality. As much as we originally expected to land in a warehouse space in the Third Ward, or stay on the East Side, the idea of an empty box was also appealing. We needed space built just for us.

It had to look professional and modern, but also open and collaborative and respectful of our unique company’s culture. Oppermann had a plan for that, too.

He selected architect Mark Mattes to build us a space that would be airy and bright, with a north-south orientation so everyone has a view of both the City Hall skyline and the Third Ward. The editorial office is just a little separated, which allows for the quiet writers need, but it flows into where the programmers, designers, social media and sales team sit. My business partner, Jeff, and I have private offices, but with glass walls. And we have a small conference room, as well as an open lounge that spills into the kitchen, storage and IT closet.

While the square footage is bit smaller than our old office, it’s so creatively designed that it feels open and spacious.

"It was already demoed out, which is what you were looking for. The suite really fits your brand. You can see all the way through from one side to the other. As transparent as the Internet Age is ... here you are," notes Oppermann.

Oppermann concedes that the design was incredibly important to us, so he brought in Heather Colligan-Clarke from Creative Business Interiors. "When we heard you wanted to be in something that was ‘urban cool," we found someone who does that sort of stuff. They know how to do that."

Together, we selected colors, surfaces, flooring, brick, fixtures and furniture. Creative Business Interiors oversaw the entire construction, design and furnishing process – and Colligan-Clarke was already familiar with the raw space in the building, and had built out other suites in CityCenter.

"I had actually looked at it last year," she says. "I’m always looking at plans, but also trying to look at a space three-dimensionally. The hardest part to anticipate early on was the impact of having this view all the way through."

For Colligan-Clarke, OnMilwaukee.com provided both challenges and opportunities during the process.

"A less challenging space would just have the drop ceiling all over, so you wouldn’t see into the 100-plus year old structure," she says. "I like the peeks up into the dark ceiling, and adding the brick back in is a high point. When it was a raw space, the windows to the north weren’t special, but painting them out frames a phenomenal view."

Six months after we signed the lease, we moved into the beautiful, elegant new home of OnMilwaukee.com this May. Sure, it took a little getting used to, but we all love it. But it also took some trust that the experts would deliver exactly what we needed – even when didn’t know what that was.

Says Colligan-Clarke, "The beauty of working for a firm like Creative is that we can be a la carte so we can fit wherever we fit, but we find the best results with client satisfaction are projects where we’re involved from the beginning to the end."

That turnkey approach meant that our furniture matched our aesthetic. Creative Business Interiors planned for the placement of the TVs, tables and desks, but also the soundproofing that is provided by the ceiling clouds and carpet in the low workstations for the sales staff. No detail was overlooked at any point during the process, and as an active client that was already in the building, Colligan-Clarke was responsive to our evolving needs during the build out. "That’s the beauty of design-build," she says. "Everything is flexing and moving as you go."

I know I visited at least twice a day, every day, during the build out.

Says Colligan-Clarke, "We’ve been in constant contact throughout the process. You could call me about the paint, the furniture, everything. Clients are as involved as they can be, and you were very excited about the process, because it’s your baby."

It’s true, we were on the same page, design-wise. "I think if someone has a similar aesthetic to me, that’s always an easy connection with a client," says Colligan-Clarke, "but at the end of the day, it’s never about a space that represents me, it’s a physical manifestation about the goals and intentions and brands of the client."

Oppermann, too, plans on using the finished project as a case study on how to deliver a potential tenant exactly what they want.

"I’m particularly pleased about the use of the glass," says Oppermann. "It’s almost entirely open, but some people have some privacy. We’ll show this off as much as you let us."

Says Palec, "This is just a vibrant corner of the city. I thought you guys would love it. You were in market for having space created for you and ultimately it’s about occupancy cost, not cost per square foot."

Is Palec, the patient realtor, who watched this entire process, pleased with how it all turned out?

Well, consider that he spent more than a year on the OnMilwaukee.com office project – but he knows that his free service – to clients, anyway – is an art and a science, and that the he’s earned the trust of a company that will forever sing his praises.

"The proof is in a really weird pudding, and that is in eyes and smiles," says Palec. "I can see it in all of your faces. I already knew economically that it would work, but I’m pleased because of how happy you all are."

Says Colligan-Clarke, "It’s a space just filled with natural light, and it’s a very textural space. And it’s notable because of OnMilwaukee. It’s exciting that someone my age has a 15-year-old company that has moved into their first "designed-for-them" space.

"It’s a cool space. I love CityCenter. I’m all about you guys going to the next level, and this is your next-level, grown-up space."

Andy is the founder and co-owner of OnMilwaukee.com. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.