Photo Courtesy of Mark Cullen
What do Oprah’s mom, the guy who played Screech on Saved by the Bell, and Halle Berry have in common?
They either currently live, or have recently lived, along Milwaukee’s “Gold Coast:” Prospect Avenue, a row of ritzy condo towers lining the Lake Michigan shoreline. (Yes, that’s right: the Halle Berry.)
The cool, fresh lake breezes of Prospect Avenue and the East Side have drawn the city’s upper crust since the city’s infancy. But in recent years the city’s condo boom has driven the luxury — and prices — to near-ridiculous levels. You get what you pay for. At the University Club Tower, you get not only commanding views of Lake Michigan, the city’s skyline and the striking Santiago Calatrava-designed Milwaukee Art Museum, but you also get sumptuous furnishings and finishes, a private elevator, your own wine cellar in the basement, a 24 hour personal concierge, and a walk-in humidor. Nice place.
So nice, in fact, that a local furniture mogul recently closed on what might well be the single greatest residential sale in the history of Wisconsin: $4.8 million for a top floor penthouse unit at University Club Tower. That figure might get you a spare bedroom in Manhattan, but around here, it’s unheard of. It’s enough scratch to buy almost two whole blocks in my neighborhood.
So what is a blue collar berg like Milwaukee doing building — and selling — multi-million dollar penthouse condos left and right? Beats me. Not only will I likely never own one of these apartments, I probably wouldn’t even be allowed to enter the lobby. I won’t likely sit next to these folks at a Brewers game, nor am I likely to rub elbows with them at my usual, “downscale” haunts. But while there is something disturbing about the rich living at the city’s precipice, literally turning their backs on the multitudes while they gaze out across a seemingly endless expanse of blue, I’m OK with my new millionaire “neighbors.”Say Hello to Your New Neighbor!
For one thing, the City didn’t have to pay a dime to build these towers. No TIFs, no subsidies, no costly infrastructure improvements. The neighborhood has always been fairly well-to-do, so I doubt anyone nearby has been priced out. And, I’d much rather see these rich folks contributing to the City’s tax base, paying their hefty property taxes to the city I live in, rather than to their own exclusive suburban enclaves where everyone else is as well-heeled as they are. In the University Club Tower, every single unit has sold for over one million dollars. That kind of big money in a relatively small city could add up in property taxes. Who knows? Maybe the yearly taxes from that one building could help keep the the city’s High School of the Arts going strong, to cite one example. And, if our well-heeled friends take care of our city’s fine artistic, cultural and educational institutions, well, even better.
These folks can live where ever they want. That’s they’ve chosen to drop such serious coin on a place in Milwaukee must say something positive about the city. What I hope for is that they become not just residents of their fancy condos, but true residents and citizens of their newly adopted city.