Mandel Group Inc.
Over the course of the last 24 years, Mandel Group Inc. (MGI) has been one of the most influential residential multifamily developers in the greater Milwaukee area. The integrated real estate services firm offers development, construction and property management services and is widely recognized as one of the city’s premier developers, playing a vital role in the residential renaissance of historic downtown Milwaukee.
Founder and Milwaukee native, Barry Mandel, made his first mark with the $85 million East Pointe Commons development, turning an abandoned freeway corridor on the city’s Lower East Side into formidable housing. This project not only won the National Association of Homebuilder’s Best Mixed Use Development Award, but also the acclaimed Urban Land Institute Award of Excellence.
Better than before
Projects like East Pointe paved the way to all kinds of development in Milwaukee and MGI now owns and manages 5,000 residential units with more than $1 billion in completed transactions. But it is not accolades or dollar amounts that MGI strives for; the end goal is to make Milwaukee a better city.
“We have pioneered urban development from the late 1980s until now,” says Mandel. “MGI has helped to change the landscape and the city skyline, but we’re also investing in making the city a better place than it was before.”
This has been the concept since Mandel started the firm in November 1991. Before MGI, Mandel was a partner at Trammell Crow Residential (TCR). “In 1991 TCR decided to exit Milwaukee, so I started my own smaller company,” he recounts.
Now with 140 employees and a strong executive leadership team, including Robert Monnat, chief operating officer of MGI, the firm has moved its mission forward for 24 years. “MGI takes some of the most blemished sites and properties – oftentimes ones that have served as detractors, lowering the value of properties in proximity – and brings them back to life,” explains Monnat. “We have developed a particular niche in navigating environmentally challenging sites and regulatory headaches other developers don’t want to deal with.”
New life to environmentally challenging sites
Monnat says the company has two main avenues of focus: in-fill suburban/urban node multifamily development and creating mixed use multifamily urban neighborhoods. “Our hallmark has been redevelopment sites along the lakefront or the river which provides differentiating value and appeal,” he says.
“We’ve concentrated on building out our portfolio of land along the lake and river – taking old tannery sites and gas plants or areas such as the abandoned freeway corridor and starting fresh,” adds Mandel. “We specialize in sites with heavy environmental issues and rejuvenating these areas.”
The firm is currently finishing 650 new units on 8 acres of old tannery grounds along the Milwaukee Riverwalk along the North End. The project has captured the 2014 Mayor’s Design Award, engaging the street in a distinct manner with inviting windows, welcoming entries, distinct signage, active public spaces and design that encourages informal public gathering.
Located at the intersection of North Water and Pleasant Streets on the east bank of the Milwaukee River, the unique residential development is home to three urban apartment buildings, a large green roof space and a pristine corner park. Catering to the ultimate in urban living, units are just steps from restaurants, shopping, the arts and more.
These apartment homes have condominium-style finishes with amenities including Energy Star appliances, walk-in closets, spacious bedrooms, deep walk-in showers, patios and balconies, and custom countertops. The units are available in studio-style, one bedroom, one bedroom plus a den, two bedrooms, two bedrooms plus a den and three-bedroom floorplans.
Building up for baby boomers and millennials
Another avenue MGI focuses on is developing luxury residential communities for emerging demographic profiles, including a growing segment of the population that is previously accustomed to single-family home ownership, now opting for luxury rental apartment communities.
“In an effort to diversify, MGI has looked for infill and redevelopment opportunities in fully developed suburban communities to create walkable neighborhoods with established retail and services,” explains Monnat. “These are often higher density projects, catering to the baby boomer population. These apartments are much larger and more home-like. For the most part, the site is situated in the business district of a suburban community, with surrounding grocery stores, pharmacies, coffee shops and other retail stores and conveniences.”
It’s not just millennials flocking to the city now that the economy is beginning to bounce back and the housing market improves; empty nesters also want to move downtown. They want to enjoy the same benefits of nightlife, nearby restaurants, music and theater.
After years of little to no apartment development downtown throughout the recession, apartment development has taken off again in the heart of Milwaukee. From 2012 to 2014, approximately 1,243 apartment units were built. That number is set to accelerate in 2015. According to MGI, more than 4,900 apartment units are planned for 2015 to 2018 in the city’s East Side, historic Third Ward, Walker’s Point and the Marquette University area.
A surge of new development
The lack of apartments built before the recession has led to a significant shortage of supply and pent up demand. As the economy comes back, millennials are moving out of their parent’s homes and empty nesters are acting on the desire to move downtown. This means a busy year ahead for MGI. “We have $200 million of development going in the ground this year and $100 million currently in the ground,” measures Mandel.
With its development focus solely on Milwaukee, MGI stays abreast with national markets and industry changes through its affiliation with the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC). “Our relationship with NMHC allows us more insight into what’s happening in markets all over the country with regard to capital markets, technology, new building systems and products,” he says. “It helps us stay in tune with the national market. We plan on having much more involvement with NMHC since we launched our Midwest Acquisition Platform led by Jason Babcock, formerly with Equity Residential, as our senior acquisitions manager.
For now, there is plenty development to concentrate on in the myriad activity in Greater Milwaukee. “There’s a perfect storm of conditions,” suggests Monnat. “Nobody had built apartments for years and now everybody wants to rent.”
“It happens to be an opportunistic time,” adds Mandel. “There are overwhelming demographics.”
While the time to move is now, Mandel Group Inc. has been doing it for more than 24 years as one of Milwaukee’s original development groups, pioneering areas thought to be unusable and making more room for those who want to call the city home.
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