Outdated Brookfield industrial park sees upgrades
124th Commerce District lures new businesses

By Katherine Michalets - Special to The Freeman

August 26, 2014

Staff members of 360 Direct stand outside the company’s headquarters on 126th Street in Brookfield. From left are Nicole Agen, Ken Hamiel, Vicki Kroeger, Brandon Spenneberg, Clive Dawson, President John Bernhoft, and Barb Giliberto.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

BROOKFIELD - An industrial area of Brookfield is getting a much-needed facelift thanks to the city’s investment in infrastructure, as well as building renovations from businesses moving into the newly-branded 124th Commerce District.

The district is defined as the area between Burleigh Road and Feerick Street, one block south of Capitol Drive, west of 124th Street to the 128th Street right-of-way.  Two years ago, Brookfield city staff and officials began meeting with property and business owners in the area to plan for scheduled street improvements. From those discussions, a consensus was reached that a storm sewer system was desirable to replace open drainage ditches, as well as concrete streets with curb and gutter would be preferred as streets were rebuilt, said Tim Casey, economic development administrator for Brookfield.

During the branding process, the name 124th Commerce District was selected because it reflects the mix of commercial uses lying within the area: 58 industrial buildings with 1.4 million square feet of space; 13 office buildings with 200,000 square feet of space; and seven retail or restaurant buildings, Casey said.

Wisconsin Firearms Training is completely rehabilitating the interior and exterior of the former B&G golf building at 12730 W. Burleigh Road into a five-star shooting range and training center. It is expected to open this fall. 
Submitted rendering

Several businesses are rehabbing buildings in the district or have already moved into completed projects.

Jeff Lightfoot, founder and one of the owners of Wisconsin Firearms Training, said he and his partners, Larry Reid and Dennis Barthenheier, purchased the former B&G golf building at 12730 W. Burleigh Road and are completely rehabilitating the building as a five-star shooting range and training center. 

The price of the building and its close proximity to the interstate were two reasons, Lightfoot said, why they purchased it. He also likes the recent developments near Mayfair Mall and the expanding retail base in the area.

“Our business model and the type of business we are planning to open needs to be in a high traffic retail area for it to be successful,” Lightfoot said.

When completed, Wisconsin Firearms Training will have an indoor shooting range with 15 lanes and will offer training for everyone from beginners to advanced shooters. While the range and the retail space inside will be open to the public, Lightfoot said several municipalities will also do training at the business.

Lightfoot said he is anticipating the work on the building, which includes major indoor and outdoor renovation, to be completed this fall.


Other new businesses

Other new businesses in the 124th Commerce District include Stark Asphalt/Northwest Asphalt, which purchased the building at 12845 W. Burleigh Road and is remodeling the interior for offices.  Stark will be moving approximately 20 office employees there in early fall, Casey said.

LJ Design and Manufacturing, better known as Laacke and Joys, purchased the VerHalen building at 3205 N. 124th St. and is rehabilitating it to house manufacturing.  In addition, Signs by Tomorrow acquired the building at 3415 N. 127th St. and will be moving its operations from West Allis. 

John Bernhoft, president of 360 Direct, said his business-to-business marketing firm previously leased space for six years in Wauwatosa and had been searching for a new location for the past one-and-a-half years.

Bernhoft said he heard about the redevelopment in the 124th Commerce District and found the right building for 360 Direct’s needs.

“It was in need of some significant attention and they are stepping up to the plate,” Bernhoft said.

The new home of 360 Direct at 3245 N. 126th St. was taken down to its core and completely remodeled, Bernhoft said. The first part of the building dated to the 1950s and the second part from the 1970s.

Although 360 Direct’s employees moved to the new location this spring, they are still waiting for the road work to be completed by the city.

“We are anxious to see the finished street, but we will be patient,” Bernhoft said. “The fact that they were redeveloping this park made it a no-brainer for us.”


Low-interest loans

Casey said along with the infrastructure improvements, the city’s offer of low-interest loans in cooperation with Waukesha County has appealed to some businesses looking to relocate.

“I think the area is clearly seen an improvement now and I think that is going to improve because of the location and the new streets,” he said.

With Wauwatosa seeing an increase in retail businesses, some industrial businesses have been displaced, so the 124th Commerce District is a convenient move for them.

The remaining road work includes ground restoration, top soil and seeding, plus the placement of permanent 124th Commerce District signage. To further enhance aesthetics, colored concrete is being used in crosswalk areas on the Robin, Townsend, Wirth and Feerick intersections with 124th Street. 

“I think it just lends to the overall appearance of the neighborhood and it will attract people wanting to come to the area,” Lightfoot said of the infrastructure improvements.

Mayor Steve Ponto said he feels the district has been successful.

“We’re trying to do some things to encourage private investments and to help improve the overall appearance of it,” he said. “It has been our experience that this is an area that essentially from an economic standpoint is doing fine.”