By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Feb 13, 2024 at 2:34 PM

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and The Alexander Company announced a that they will collaborate on an estimated $25 million plan to restore a trio of National Soldier’s Milwaukee VA Soldiers Home buildings for reuse.

The three buildings – the chapel and Ward Memorial Theater, designed by Henry C. Koch and Edward Townsend Mix’s Governor’s Residence – have long been expected to be the focus of work to facilitate reuse, now that Old Main and five other structures on the historic campus have been renovated.

The chapel.

In fact, media was given a tour of the theater and residence a few years ago when an RFP was released for the three buildings. Sadly, the condition of Koch’s beautiful shingle-style chapel was already too precarious at that time for visits.

The buildings are expected to be returned to their original uses and once reopened will add 35,000 square feet of community space for veterans and supportive services on the sprawling, verdant campus near American Family Field.

Most of that square footage is in the 21,986-square-foot theater, with a little more than 7,000 square feet in each of the other two structures.

“Our partnership with The Alexander Company is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to restore three of Milwaukee’s treasured historic buildings back to their original grandeur. The Zablocki team is extremely appreciative of the community’s dedication in supporting our nation’s Veterans through efforts such as support for this enhanced use lease initiative,” said Milwaukee VA Medical Center Executive Director James McLain in a statement released Tuesday.

“It is a great honor to care for America’s heroes on these hallowed grounds, the renovation of the Chapel, Ward Theater, and Governor’s Mansion only strengthens our dedication to excellence.”

Inside the Ward. (PHOTO: The Alexander Company)

As was the case with the previous rehabilitation projects, this one will grant a long-term Enhanced Use Lease (EUL) to Wisconsin-based The Alexander Company, which will fund the rehabilitation of the buildings, which will then be dedicated to uses that serve veterans.

A public hearing on the lease was slated for Tuesday at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center.

Development plans are being finalized and are expected to be ready in a few months, and the hope is to begin work in spring 2025, with a completion anticipated for autumn of 2026.

“As we move into this next chapter at the Milwaukee Soldiers Home, we at The Alexander Company are honored to continue our role in serving those who have given so much,” said Joe Alexander, president of The Alexander Company, in Tuesday's statement.

Governor's Residence
The Governor's Residence, designed by architect Edward Townsend Mix. (PHOTO: The Alexander Company)

“Working together with the VA we’re able to expand the supportive and dignified environment for veterans on site, while also preserving local, veteran history.”

Once work is complete, the Center for Veterans Issues (CVI) will operate the buildings, with supportive services offices in the Governor’s Residence for homeless and at-risk veterans.

“We are looking forward to collaborating with the Milwaukee VA Medical Center and The Alexander Company to bring additional resources that will help serve Veterans when they come to the VA,” said CVI President Ed Garza.

“This opportunity will help bring more awareness to the various programs that the VA supports and bring relief to our heroes in need of assistance.”

The residence will include office space for The Wisconsin Veterans Network, Journey to the Light Ministries and Feast of Crispian, as well as a technological training center for computer literacy training.

The Ward Memorial Theater will be returned to theater use, hosting community theater and musical groups, and conferences and lectures for VA Medical Center staff.

The chapel will be used as a nondenominational worship, as well as conference and training space.

The Alexander Company will seek to use State and Federal Historic Tax Credits, PACT ACT
Funding, National Park Service Save America’s Treasures Grant, New Markets Tax Credits and philanthropic funding as part of its financing package.

JP Cullen is expected to be the general contractor on the project. A partner architect has not yet been named.

The announcement is a win for veterans and for lovers of history and historic architecture.

"Nearly three years ago, our community achieved a major milestone with the restoration of Old Main and five other historic buildings to the service of veterans," said Emma Rudd, executive director of the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance.

"Today, we are so excited to see The Alexander Company and VA continue this great work with plans to restore three more iconic buildings for the service of our nation’s heroes. We thank them for their hard work, dedication and vision in making this major milestone possible."

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 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 has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.