By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Aug 17, 2006 at 5:25 AM
Joseph J. Zilber, founder and chairman of Zilber Ltd. real estate company, announced Wednesday that he has completed the purchase of the former Pabst Brewery site -- the controversial 21 acres of currently unused space on the edge of Milwaukee's Downtown -- from Juneau Avenue Partners.

Zilber did not disclose any specific commercial plans for the area, but instead outlined the big picture of what he hopes for the historical site.

"It's going to look like a neighborhood," he says, describing his vision, which includes housing -- both apartments and condominiums -- offices, retail and industrial space, as well as the possibility of a hotel, a national training center (Johnson Controls is one possible tenant), community oriented facilities and parks.

At this point, Zilber and his Pabst team -- John Kersey, director of Towne Investments; Mike Mervis, a vice president of Towne Realty; Tom Bernacchi, the assistant director of Towne Investments and the newly appointed Director of Urban Development Dan McCarthy -- are still in discussions with the City about the possibility of a TIF -- one that Zilber says is "significantly less than that submitted in the previous plan."

Zilber says he plans on meeting with each alderman to make sure they are all "on board," and if the formal application is approved by the Common Council, the remediation and infrastructure work on the site could start as early as the end of this year.

Zilber says the biggest difference between his proposal and the previously denied Pabst City one is that he and his team are seeking out other people from all over the country who are interested in historic preservation of the Milwaukee neighborhood. Although he plans on selling parts of the site to outside buyers, he intends on keeping much of it -- like the silos he so dearly loves -- for himself.

"I have lived in Milwaukee for almost 89 years and I felt it was my duty and my responsibility, as a citizen of this community, to take this piece of our history and do everything I can to preserve, protect and return it to economic viability," he says.

Zilber and his team say that they hope to save as many of the existing structures as possible, although some will have to be demolished.

"With over 1.4 million sq. ft. of space, some of it in terrible disrepair and on the verge of collapse, devising a plan to covert that space to usable, productive, desirable housing, office, industrial and retail space presents a formidable challenge, (but) it has been, and continues to be, a labor of love," he says.

Zilber noted that he is working with Milwaukee's new Director of Sustainability Ann Beier and intends to submit an application to the United States Green Building Council -- the national accrediting body on environmental sustainability -- to participate in the LEED pilot program that would get the neighborhood certified.

Zilber closed the press conference by announcing his plans to celebrate his 100th birthday -- just over 10 years from now -- at the Pabst and hopes that the community will join him "celebrating the return of one of Milwaukee’s great legends."

The initial plans for the location are on the Pabst's Web site (below).
Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”