[MKE - Indymedia] pabsty
pryz1 at earthlink.net
Tue Nov 22 13:15:25 PST 2005
November 22, 2005
Bruce Murphy Milwaukee Magazine
THE REAL JOE ZILBER
The news headlines have touted Joe Zilbers decision to purchase an option on PabstCity and develop the property. Zilber, now 88, says this could be his legacy to the city in which he made his money. Sounds wonderful, almost philanthropic, so why am I suspicious? Perhaps because there are so many unanswered questions.
For starters, is it possible that Zilber maneuvered behind the scenes to kill the first PabstCity proposal? Someone paid Craig Peterson and his Zigman Joseph Stephenson PR firm to lobby against the deal. Peterson has an obvious connection to Zilber: The two were partners in developing the building on Eighth and Wisconsin where ZJS is located.
Then theres Johnny Vassallo, who rents space from Zilber for his Mos Steakhouse. Johnny V. was also very active in opposing PabstCity. Another opponent was Rave owner Joe Balistrieri, who used to rent the Riverside Theatre from Zilber. And Zilber himself stood to lose money due to competition for his Riverside concerts from a proposed House of Blues at PabstCity.
All of the connections lead to Zilber, who observers say has had his eye on the Pabst property for years. Peterson would not say who paid him, but he was clever enough to recruit Citizens for Responsive Government, which rents space from him and is just down the hall from ZJS. (Ah, Milwaukee, such a small world.) The door-to-door work by CRG in some aldermanic districts did as much as anything to kill the PabstCity deal.
If Zilber is the one who paid to get the deal killed, he sounds more like a canny businessman than someone searching for a legacy. That doesnt necessarily mean he wont develop something special at the old Pabst Brewery, but that hasnt been his style historically. His Towne Realty arose after World War II as a builder of humdrum suburban homes, not slick urban developments. Zilber has long been known as a tightfisted, tough negotiator who has bought Downtown buildings, kept costs down and avoided major renovations. Downtowns redevelopment has largely occurred outside Towne Realtys properties.
If Zilber intends to change his style at age 88, then why is there already talk that he may need a huge amount of tax incremental financing, comparable to what was proposed for PabstCity? Is this going to be his legacy or the taxpayers?
Certainly Zilbers idea of developing a mix of housing, office and retail, with perhaps a multiplex movie theater, is the right approach. The site is on a hill that could provide condominium owners with cool views of Downtown and the expressway. There are several beautiful old brewery buildings that could be redeveloped and interspersed with modern, glassy mid-rises. With enough residential development, spin-off retail would be inevitable, with bars or brewpubs connected to the Pabst history. Housing could mix incomes, including high-end, college-oriented housing (for Marquette University students), and this neighborhood could also achieve some racial integration, which could come naturally given enough density and diversity of price points.
Yes, the potential is fantastic, but the risk is high, given the huge amount of land and the number of ugly buildings that may need to be torn down. Zilber has an option to purchase and could announce a plan within two months or so. But will the concept be adventuresome or blah? Will it be a legacy for Milwaukee or the biggest TIF subsidy in history? Well see.
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