By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Oct 04, 2023 at 5:01 PM

In 2022, seven years after we got a first tantalizing glimpse of what was hiding beneath the steel cladding of the old Gimbels-Schusters building at 2153 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr., work started on removing that covering and converting the building to a headquarters for the ThriveOn Collaboration.

(Remember to click the links throughout this story to see photos from earlier visits as well as some historical images.)

Developer Royal Capital is working with architects Kahler Slater and Engberg Anderson and contractors CG Schmidt and JCP Construction to convert the building into the ThriveOn Collaboration headquarters, which will include community engagement programs of collaboration partners Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.

The Bronzeville complex will also be home to Malaika Early Learning Center, Versiti Blood Center of Wisconsin and the offices of JobsWork MKE. Plus, there will also be meeting spaces available to the community, and gathering and collaboration areas, too.

Out back, there will be the office portion's entrance, along with bike parking and a dedicated playground in a courtyard created by the recent construction of a 355-space parking structure.

The western portion of the building will get about 90 mixed-income apartments for families, seniors and students, with amenities like a fitness center, underground parking and more.

Recently, part of the cladding on this back portion was removed, revealing a beautiful broad-arched opening. The rest of the cladding will come off the building soon.


The 470,000-square foot building comprises a 1907 building by Kirchhoff & Rose, a Brust, Philipp & Heimerl addition in 1913 and other expansions circa 1918, 1941 and 1948-50.

Schuster's operated its main department store in the building in the heart of what was once one of the city’s busiest retail districts until the company was purchased by Gimbels in 1962, at which point the store was co-branded until 1969.

The following year, the store closed and the building was used by Gimbels as a distribution center. The facade of the building – long used by CH Coakley & Co. for storage – was covered in 1984 to cut utility bills.

The plan for the beautiful Kirchhoff & Rose-designed building was announced in 2019, and that year I went inside for a last look before interior demolition began.

When I went inside at the start of this year for a progress report, most of the interior demo was complete and some of the conversion work had begun.

I returned on Wednesday to find the interior dramatically different. Much of the first floor is starting to see walls go up to create the spaces for Versiti, JobWorksMKE and Malaika. The skylights are in place on that level, though not yet on the floors above.

Roof replacement – much needed after a massive water infiltration early in summer – is set to begin this week, as is the installation of 77 window panels in the former display case windows on the first floor. Those vetrines will house artwork when the project is complete.

GMF office
GMF offices.

On the second and third floors, offices, meeting and other rooms have been created for MCW and the same is true on the fourth floor, where GMF will have its offices. The fourth floor space, with its commanding views out the Chicago-style picture windows and restored department store hardwood floors, will roughly double GMF’s current office footprint.

These top floors are getting close to being complete and GMF’s Jeremy Podolski says that GMF and MCW will likely be ready to move in during the early months of next year, with the first floor occupants following not long after.

MCW office
A space in the MCW office.

Work on the apartment phase should kick in soon, with those units expected to come online in the second half of 2024. The apartment lobby will be on Vel R. Phillips Avenue in a former loading dock that has a beautiful brick floor that will be cleaned up and preserved.

I’m especially excited to see how the expansive display case gallery – which feels like an old-time shopping arcade – turns out. The space, facing King Drive, It is currently being restored.

The gallery under restoration.

Because the project is utilitizing historic tax credits, all of this work is being undertaken under the watchful eye of the National Parks Service.

In spring, ThriveOn announced a call for art to decorate the interior and exterior of the building and Podolski told me Wednesday that the artists have been selected and will be named soon. He said they were artists with local ties and some with national reputations.

Here are more photos of interior progress, taken on Wednesday.

Greater Milwaukee Foundation offices

break roomX

Medical College offices




New parking structure


Gallery ceiling and floor


Gallery entrance to former store


Vintage staircases are staying



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.