The former Pabst Brewery in downtown Milwaukee sat vacant for years after the 21-acre complex closed abruptly in 1996.

It is now known as The Brewery, a vibrant city neighborhood, complete with housing, offices, restaurants, hotels, a university building and two public parks. It boasts a total assessed property value of $148.9 million, according to The Brewery Neighborhood Improvement District No. 1.

The massive undertaking was led by Joseph Zilber, founder of Milwaukee-based Zilber Ltd.

“We actually had a lot of activity,” Todd Battle, president of KABA, said of the park’s lack of momentum. “We just couldn’t really get anything over the finish line. There was always some sort of impediment.”

Battle noted that for the typical company that would consider the park, moving the business would be a big deal, the cost of a new building is a significant hurdle and many have existing real estate they would need to sell or a lease to get out of before committing.

The first thing you would see coming off the freeway to downtown Milwaukee was a collection of crumbling buildings, (and) the streets weren’t connected to the city grid, which is not the image Joe thought the city should have,” said John Kersey, executive vice president of Zilber. “He took it upon himself to try to rectify it. The motivation was he wanted to give back to the city of Milwaukee.”

The Brewery is just one of a number of high-profile adaptive reuse projects in southeastern Wisconsin from the past 25 years.

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