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Design and Shipowner Plans Café at Vel R. Phillips Plaza » Urban Milwaukee

Vel R. Phillips Plaza.  Rendered by TKWA.

Vel R. Phillips Plaza. Rendered by TKWA.

The City of Milwaukee has found a new supplier for the soon-to-open Vel R. Phillips Plaza.

Nathaniel Davauer, owner of Draft & Vessel, will open a café in the building on the western edge of the square. Davauer told Urban Milwaukee that his conceptual plans could include bringing back Soup Bros., which closed in 2022.

“The concept is to bring Draft & Vessel, but bring some food with the kitchen,” Davauer said in an interview. “It can be anything: coffee, beer, hamburgers, pretzels, soup, ice cream are all possible.”

The 30,000-square-foot, $17 million plaza will fill the south side of W. Wisconsin Avenue between N. Vel R. Phillips Avenue and N. 5th Street. Directly across from the Baird Center, the plaza will feature a work of art honoring the late civil rights pioneer Sheet Philips and a 2,900-square-foot building.

Davauer’s proposal comes after restaurant and bar owners Mike Eitel canceled its plans in February. after public opposition and the revelation that he had unpaid property taxes. Eitel’s plans were praised by the mayor Cavalier Johnson and officials from the Ministry of Urban Development. At the suggestion of Eitel’s Caravan Hospitality Group, an early morning coffee shop would turn into a place for lunch and ultimately a fun spot for happy hour.

The latest proposal must be approved by the City of Milwaukee Redevelopment Authority and the Common Council. The first public review is expected to take place on May 16.

Draft & Vessel started as a tavern in Shorewood and expanded with an outdoor location at the Milwaukee Public Market. Davauer is also preparing to open a beer garden, known as Giving Tree Garage, in Walker’s Point. In February, he unveiled plans to open a new tavern near the beer garden in a vacant building at 723 S. 2nd St. Giving Tree is expected to open in June and the 2nd Street bar would follow shortly after.

The formal plan for the plaza café is still in development.

“We want to go a little further than our typical activities, which is a fairly specific beer bar. Now we’re going to do our beer work, but I’m currently working with Crave Cafe and hopefully I’ll bring Soup Bros back in the winter,” Davauer said.

The entrepreneur said the location would benefit not only from the expanded convention center, but also from new corporate office tenants nearby, including Milwaukee Tool and Fiserv, and adjacent hotels such as the Hilton Milwaukee City Center.

The square is expected to open this summer, but the new café would follow at a later date. Davauer said he hopes to open a pop-up location during the Republican National Convention in July.

The city funded the project through a variety of additional fiscal financing contributions. A final selection for the Vel Phillips artwork has yet to be announced. Additional amenities include public restrooms, a manicured garden, flexible space for farmers markets and other events, an information kiosk and a station on Milwaukee County’s Connect bus express line.

The city initially put out a request for proposals for an operator but did not receive any bids. Eitel was attracted to the location after a conversation with the building architect Chris Socha by the Kubala Washatko architects. Davauer also credited Socha on Wednesday for supporting his vision.

As part of the financing plan for the plaza, each potential tenant would be eligible for a $750,000 grant to renovate the building’s interior. The lease that Eitel negotiated was for a base payment of $5,000 per month for three months, with an additional payment if 6% of point-of-sale system sales exceeded the base amount. The terms of Davaour’s lease have not yet been announced.

The plaza will be built on top of a city parking lot, 401-441 W. Wisconsin Ave. The remaining 55,000 square feet of space, large enough to house most of the new buildings constructed in Downtown in recent years, is being marketed for redevelopment. The plaza would reserve space for a future streetcar line north from the Milwaukee Intermodal Station to Fiserv Forum and Bronzeville. The square was first proposed in 2019 as part of a much larger proposal to expand the streetcar, but the city council has not put forward that proposal.

A partnership between The Kubala Washatko Architects, HNTB and landscape architectural firm Saiki Design is designing the square. Selzer-Ornst Construction Company is listed as the project’s general contractor on a construction permit. Walbec Group is working with the company on the project.

Vel R. Phillips Plaza Views

Construction photo April

Construction of Vel R. Phillips Plaza on April 30.  Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Construction of Vel R. Phillips Plaza on April 30. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.