Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Wisconsin)

July 12, 2007 Thursday

SECTION: D Business; Pg. 1

HEADLINE: China trade outpost may join Pabst site; Business agents would offer goods to U.S. wholesalers

BYLINE: TOM DAYKIN, Staff, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

It seems Milwaukee Bucks draft pick Yi Jianlian isn't the only hot Chinese import considering a move to Milwaukee.

An office building, aimed at housing Chinese businesses that would sell their products to U.S. companies, has been proposed for a site within downtown's former Pabst brewery complex.

The Milwaukee International Trade Center would be converted from what's now a 180,000-square-foot warehouse west of N. 8th St., between W. Highland and W.

Juneau avenues.

Construction work could begin by the end of this year - around the same time basketball fans hope to see the 7-foot Yi making monster dunks at the nearby Bradley Center.

The two-story trade center would provide space to as many as 100 Chinese businesses seeking to sell their products directly to wholesale buyers for distribution throughout the United States, said Michael Mervis, a spokesman for the project.

The development also would provide consulting services to U.S. companies seeking to export their goods to China, said Mervis, assistant to Joseph Zilber, a Milwaukee real estate investor who's a partner in the trade center proposal.

Mervis said Wednesday that the project's partners are "guardedly optimistic"

about its prospects. But, he said, there's still much work to be done, including the need to secure commitments from Chinese companies interested in the trade center.

Many of the Chinese prospects are companies based in Ningbo, a port city near Shanghai that in 2006 created a "sister city" relationship with Milwaukee.

The prospects include companies that make consumer products, as well as firms that provide building supplies, Mervis said.

Chinese companies interested in the trade center see it as an opportunity to establish direct sales relationships with U.S. customers, Mervis said.

Also, U.S. companies could use the trade center to shop for Chinese companies that would do contract manufacturing work in their home country, said Peter Beitzel, vice president of business development at the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

"They could showcase what they do to a multitude of clients," Beitzel said about the Chinese firms.

The Milwaukee facility could take advantage of the recent designation of a federal economic development zone in southeastern Wisconsin that seeks to attract foreign investment. The Immigrant Investor Pilot Program offers visas to foreigners who invest at least $500,000 and create at least 10 jobs within the seven-county region.

The Milwaukee area is among only about 15 Immigrant Investor Pilot Program zones. The Department of Homeland Security in May approved the zone for southeastern Wisconsin.

The trade center also got another recent boost: the Bucks'

decision to draft


Within a few days of that June 28 announcement, the trade center's promoters saw a significant increase in inquiries from Chinese companies, Mervis said.

The possibility of Yi playing for the Bucks raises "the comfort factor" for Chinese investors who previously might have never heard of Milwaukee, Mervis said.

Yi was selected sixth in the National Basketball Association draft but has been cool to the Bucks' overtures. Yi's U.S. agent, Dan Fegan, was disappointed that Yi was not taken by a team in a city that would provide him potentially more marketing opportunities.

In addition to Zilber, who owns the former Pabst brewery complex and is leading its redevelopment, the proposed trade center's partners include Francis Yip, a Chinese-American real estate developer from Chicago.

Yip is a co-founder and president of Richland Group Enterprises Inc. A Richland subsidiary builds around 100 homes yearly, mainly in Chicago's Chinatown and Bridgeport neighborhoods, according to the firm's Web site. The company also has developed commercial space, and has other subsidiaries that operate real estate brokerage and home mortgage lending services.

The trade center's other partner is Chicago attorney Robert K. Feldman, whose specialties include real estate.

The office spaces within the trade center would be sold as commercial condominiums. The condos would range from around 1,400 square feet to just more than 2,100 square feet. The trade center would total 185,000 square feet, including an addition to the building's north end.

The trade center would be a major project at the 21-acre Pabst site, where Zilber began doing environmental cleanup work in January.

Other developments include Madison-based Gorman & Co.'s plans to convert the 138,000-square-foot former keg house into the 92-unit Blue Ribbon Loft Apartments.

Also, local investors Charles Trainer and Max Dermond have agreed to buy the 55,000-square-foot former boiler house, which they plan to convert into street-level retail space and upper level offices.

Other possible uses at the former brewery include an international corporate training site operated by Johnson Controls Inc., and a brew pub developed by local investor Jim Haertel and his partners, who own the former Blue Ribbon Hall, gift shop and offices.