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Seeds of Health (SOH) has a lot to celebrate this fall as they plan for a November move to the new Tenor High School at 918-922 N. Vel Phillips Avenue (Journal Square). The move comes after an extensive search started five years ago by Seeds of Health Executive Director Marcia Spector. Spector’s goal then, as it is now, was to give as many Milwaukee area urban youth the opportunity to complete high school in 3 years and attend MATC their 4th year – for free. She enlisted PARADIGM Real Estate Corporation’s President and CEO Brian Parrish to lead the search. Parrish took the challenge very seriously and discovered not only the perfect location but the perfect space in the former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel building at 918-922 N. Vel Phillips Avenue. The move will be an exciting one for current and future Tenor High School students, and SOH and PARADIGM are proud to announce the nomination for the CARW 2021 CRE Deal of the Year Award in the “Development” category. Winners will be announced at CARW’s Wednesday night awards event.
In today’s real estate climate, finding the perfect space is never easy, and this deal was certainly no exception. But both Spector and Parrish worked tirelessly to find the perfect location, driven by the end result – the opportunity for more Milwaukee urban youth to believe that getting a post-secondary education is an attainable dream.
That’s because 918-922 N. Vel Phillips Avenue will soon open its doors to Tenor High School students. (Currently, Tenor students attend classes at either the school’s Jackson Street or South 1st Street location. This November, students at Tenor Jackson Street will move to their new home on N. Vel Phillips Avenue, while students at the current 1st Street location will move to Jackson Street.) The move to this location is just another example of how Seeds of Health continues to evolve and offer more opportunities for Milwaukee urban youth. The story behind this deal is a great example of how Seeds of Health won’t stop until they find the perfect solution for their current and future students.
Real estate deals happen every day. But not every day does a deal have the power to inspire young adults and set them up for future success. When Brian Parrish first set out five years ago to find a new location for Tenor High School, he knew it wasn’t going to be an ordinary deal. He also knew it wasn’t going to be easy – for Tenor is no ordinary school. His client had very specific criteria to meet for the selection of a new school site that would accommodate the needs of the school’s innovative programming.
Location matters, especially for schools. Parrish’s first consideration was, of course, location. Location is everything when it comes to real estate, and schools are no exception. Parrish explained, “When Seeds of Health approached me with the task of finding an additional home for their school program, I knew that the location would make or break this challenge. We looked at over 100 sites – including sites that were available and those not on the market.”
As Parrish searched, he kept his client’s specific criteria in mind. “Seeds of Health was looking for an affordable 30,000 – 60,000 square foot building. The building would require wide column spacing and sufficient structure in place to allow for the expensive conversion to classrooms and modern spaces for Tenor’s unique programs, one being Project Lead the Way. In addition, the school needed to be within walking distance to MATC.”
Map showing locations of Tenor High School Journal Square Campus and Tenor High School Cathedral Square Campus. *Baseline map provided by Google, enhanced by Chemistry in Place.
Proximity to MATC is part of Tenor’s magic. The secret to Tenor’s success lies in its 3 +1 educational model, where students complete high school in three years and then spend their fourth year at MATC – free of charge. Tenor students can graduate either with a certificate in a trade, or a year’s worth of credits under their belt – which they can take to pursue an associate degree or transfer credits to a four-year university.
Parrish explained how Tenor’s 3 + 1 model affected the search and the challenges that the pandemic presented in the search. “Because of the unique relationship between Seeds of Health and MATC, the school needed to be near it, which would create even greater synergies and growth for its program. With the uncertainty at the onset of the pandemic, when most real estate development projects paused, the new building was identified in the Journal Square campus, just two blocks from MATC and adjacent to the future MATC dorms. We moved quickly to tie it up and study its feasibility from there.”
The discovery of the site was step one. According to Parrish, there were still a few hoops to jump through after the site was established. “First, Seeds of Health had to sell their building on South 1st Street. The initial deal fell through, but Zizzo Marketing Group quickly stepped up to buy the building and lease it back to Seeds until the end of 2021. Zizzo has become a major partner for Seeds of Health and the two look forward to their growing relationship in the years to come. Next, Seeds of Health had to run a school, and pivot to virtual, AND look at expanding all during the pandemic. This was very challenging.”
Overcoming challenges and looking to the future with innovation and foresight is the Seeds of Health way. With a nod to the power of persistence, hard work, and the power of synergy, the deal came together. “After 5 years of searching, the former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel building was in our sights. The very first time we saw the expansive building at 918-922 N. Vel Phillips Avenue, we knew it had the potential to not only educate but provide future opportunities. Was it realistic? At that point, our team said that this location would give us the best chance to serve kids who are underserved. This prime location would enable Milwaukee’s urban youth to envision a bright future with opportunities. Beyond the benefits for the students, we wholeheartedly knew that this school would continue spreading the message of Vel R. Phillips, a civil rights leader, legal pioneer, wife, mother, politician, philanthropist, and more. It was meant to be, and I look forward to seeing Seeds of Health continue their meaningful and necessary work.”
Perfect location, perfect building for Tenor students. “The building will feature large spaces to allow for classrooms that can be rearranged depending on class size and use. Other features include interactive spaces and alcoves, a multi-purpose first-floor cafeteria, a special education room, and office spaces for admin and meetings. In addition, the environment will meet all Milwaukee Health Department and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) health and safety requirements.”
Picture above is a rendering of science lab space that will be in Tenor High School Journal Square Campus. *Rendering by Emmons Business Interiors (EBI) and Chemistry in Place
Tenor High School Journal Square Campus is infused with color. *Photos by Chemistry in Place. Rendering by Emmons Business Interiors (EBI) and Chemistry in Place.
Students can focus on the future while appreciating the rich history that surrounds them. “The entrance to the building features a plaque highlighting one of its most famous occupants, Christopher Latham Sholes, the chief inventor of the first practical typewriter. Sholes served as editor of the Milwaukee Sentinel from 1861 to 1865 and greatly impacted the evolution of journalism. Stories such as his allow Tenor to continue the narrative of a site so deeply rooted in the making of Milwaukee. The site structure was historically two individual structures. The north structure was a multi-tenant factory building. The site was occupied and used by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as offices and printing, as well as various office and manufacturing tenants, including machine shops, a clothing manufacturing facility, an electric sign shop, and refrigeration machinery. The rich history of tenants will serve as inspiration to students, supporting Tenor’s message that their futures hold countless opportunities.”
A world of possibilities awaits students, just outside the school doors. “In addition, the location near FISERV Forum and across the street from the UWM Panthers Arena puts students in the heart of a thriving area where Tenor will be perfectly positioned to form partnerships with area businesses and introduce students to the possibilities that Milwaukee offers. It should prove to the students that anything is possible, and their future is what they want it to be. The opportunity to transform this building and expand its education program underscores Tenor’s dedication to the ongoing revitalization of Milwaukee’s urban community.”
A great team makes for a successful deal that will forever change the lives of Milwaukee’s urban youth. Parrish says the deal came together thanks to the people behind it. “It took an incredible team to make this deal happen, ranging from the fearless leader and Executive Director, Marcia Spector, Board President David Hase, Board member, architect Bruce Marne, Jodi Weber of Seeds, IFF (non-profit lender), Eppstein Uhen Architects (EUA), Berghammer Construction and their extensive list of subcontractors, and the entire Seeds of Health Board of Directors who made tough decisions about growing and investing during a period of great uncertainty. Also, a special mention to Josh Jeffers of J Jeffers Group (Seller), Attorney Danielle Bergner, and Kristian Sydow of Boerke Co. who represented the Seller. Most of these stakeholders have made subsequent charitable donations to Seeds of Health in recognition of the impact this project will have on Milwaukee area urban youth.”
Regardless of the outcome of Wednesday’s awards ceremony, the real winners will be the students who walk through the doors of the new Tenor High School when it opens this fall.
About Seeds of Health, Inc.
Founded in 1983, Seeds of Health, Inc. is the only K4-12 charter school agency in the state of Wisconsin serving approximately 1,300 students in four high schools and a K4-8 elementary program. The five individual and unique education programs serve a broad range of student needs – from at-risk to college-bound. Seeds of Health is Milwaukee’s innovative “homegrown” answer to imaginative, collaborative, and cutting-edge education options, with the vision to positively impact the growth and development of urban children. For more information, please visit www.seedsofhealth.org.