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Natural Awakenings Milwaukee

The Brewery: Milwaukee’s Own Goes From Winning Blue to Flashing Green

Sep 30, 2013 05:40PM ● By Linda Sechrist

In 1876, the Phillip Best Brewing Company won a gold medal for its Pabst’s Best Select lager at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. To promote the beer’s identity as a first-place winner, employees of the brewery began hand-tying a piece of blue silk ribbon around the neck of every Best Select bottle. The lager garnered the America’s Best Beer award in 1893 and as a result, Pabst Brewing Company added the phrase “Blue Ribbon” to the Best Select label. While the classic beer’s name was officially changed to Pabst Blue Ribbon in 1895, the silk ribbons remained until 1916, when World War I led to a worldwide shortage of silk.

Although the flagship Milwaukee brewery was abandoned in 1996 after it ceased operations, the 150-year-old, 20-acre parcel where Phillip’s father, Jacob Best, established the brewery in 1844 will live to continue its legacy of making history, thanks to philanthropist Joseph A. Zilber, who purchased the deteriorated icon in 2006 for historic preservation and redevelopment as Brewery Project LLC, also known as The Brewery. Zilber grew up in Milwaukee and loved the city with a passion that fueled the fire of his imagination for the extraordinary project. Of the buildings now occupying the site, 50 percent of those in this historic district will be redeveloped.

LEED Platinum Certification

The brewery, like the mythological Phoenix, has risen from its rubble to become Milwaukee’s newest, sustainable, mixed-use urban neighborhood, boasting a LEED Stage II Platinum Plan designation from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The carefully planned gateway to Milwaukee’s great downtown is now one of the city’s most desirable place to work, live, learn and play. Zilber’s vision for the historic landmark lives on despite his death in 2010, through the commitment of executives of his company, Zilber Ltd., to continue the project.

Blue Ribbon Live/Work Lofts

Several of the buildings in the complex have been sold to other developers that have revamped them into the 95unit, mixed-income Blue Ribbon Loft Apartments project, as well as subsidized senior housing, office space, the Brewhouse Inn & Suites eco-friendly hotel and Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub at the Brewhouse, a pub and grill with 13 Wisconsin beers on tap for locals and thirsty travelers.

The Brewery MilwaukeeThe live/work Blue Ribbon Lofts, created from the former Pabst keg house, are home to artists and other creatives. Designed in-house and developed by Oregon, Wisconsin–based Gorman & Company, the project has a music studio, art studio, workshop, performance space, fitness center and community room. Some of the lofts have roll-up doors that increase public access to the tenants’ businesses.

“One of the tenants at the lofts, a professional at Cardinal Stritch University, enjoys the live/work concept. She has to walk less than two blocks to work,” remarks Dennis Stapleton, a Zilber Ltd. architect whose primary responsibility on the Brewery Project is to ensure sustainability. “This project is unique in size and impact, and for someone like myself, who has been interested in sustainable design since college, it’s wonderful to see it happening here in Milwaukee.”

Cardinal Stritch University’s College of Education and Leadership

The historic brewing facilities were also transformed into commercial renovation ventures. The former boiler house is now a 40,000-square-foot office building that is home to architects, lawyers and other professionals. Renovated brewery offices are occupied by Cardinal Stritch University’s College of Education and Leadership and other tenants. The former Pabst visitors center now serves as a tavern, banquet room and gift shop.

University of Wisconsin–Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health

Zilber had as much enthusiasm for redeveloping The Brewery as he did for establishing The University of Wisconsin–Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health, located within the neighborhood. The school, which combines community engagement, collaborative leadership and social innovation to achieve health and well-being of populations and communities in greater Milwaukee, received a LEED Gold designation from the USGBC. This is due in part to sustainable guidelines enacted for the Brewery Project overall in the areas of storm water management, air quality, natural resource consumption, the reduction of the urban heat-island effect and light pollution and the use of regional and recyclable material in its redevelopment. The building that houses the school runs 24 percent more efficiently than code mandates.

The Brewery MilwaukeeEco-Charrette

The seven-city block redevelopment project began with a daylong brainstorming session held to discuss issues and strategies that would maximize sustainability. Participants included national sustainability experts, members of The Brewery development team, city of Milwaukee Planning and Development, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District and local universities and other community stakeholders.

“We started with a blank canvas and the ideal of historic preservation with an emphasis on sustainability. Our staff gathered, along with engineers, architects and all the city, sustainability and water management experts to discuss pertinent ideas that were very diverse in nature. We reached several major conclusions: we needed to work closely with the city of Milwaukee and the Metropolitan Sewage District. Additionally, because of the newness of sustainability, we realized that we needed to develop guidelines to communicate, inspire and educate new property owners,” says Stapleton. The result of the decision to develop the guidelines is a 165-page document that includes a detailed explanation of how all of the sustainability built into the project benefits each individual owner, conceptually and financially. “The document includes a sign-off sheet for each property owner, which is a way for them to declare their commitment to meet the criteria and be part of the neighborhood solution,” explains Stapleton.

Brownfield Development

The environmentally responsible redevelopment reenergized a previously developed brownfield area with cleanup efforts in the areas of asbestos and lead paint abatement, as well as the remediation of contaminated soils that were decontaminated offsite. “The soils were hauled off property to a local landfill site, treated and then allowed to cure itself,” says Stapleton.

Demolition and Construction Waste Management

More than 85 percent of the debris from the demolished buildings and infrastructure was recycled, reclaimed or resold. This exceeded the USGBC’s credit minimum for 50 percent of recycling construction waste. “All the debris from the site could very easily have become part of the landfill,” Stapleton notes. “The buildings were extremely deteriorated and the bricks were covered with soot from The Brewery’s power plant. The bricks were removed, cleaned and palletized. They were used as needed in the remaining buildings. Much of the brick and concrete was crushed on site and used to fill in the underground tunnels used to move beer from one building to another. The crushed concrete was also used in streetscapes, sidewalks and bioswales,” advises Stapleton.

Stormwater ManagementThe Brewery Milwaukee

All stormwater from rooftops, open areas and roadways is diverted before entering the combined sewer system. It is collected and purified through the implementation of underground detention reservoirs, porous pavement areas and bioswales, as well as the aggressive use of landscaping. The Brewery, once a 100 percent impermeable site, now infiltrates more than 75 percent of the average annual rainfall and extracts more than 85 percent of its pollutants.

The unique and aesthetically pleasing landscape solution of bioswales lines the project’s streets and creates an attractive walking experience. It also functions as a living stormwater control system that collects, cleans and recharges the local water table.

Stapleton recalls that most tasks involved with making The Brewery a sustainable project were monumental challenges. “Initially, just getting all the pertinent players involved up front to collaborate on achieving the same goals was a huge task. Without Mr. Zilber’s vision and his ability to financially support the project, it couldn’t have happened. Today, we’re all looking back at the hard work and are in agreement that it was all worth it,” says Stapleton.

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