MKE had warehouse similar to one in Oakland fire

Posted at 5:04 PM, Dec 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-07 19:45:34-05

The City of Milwaukee had to shut down a warehouse living space -- similar to what investigators found after a deadly Oakland fire -- when it found fire hazards and blocked exits. 

The building known as the Milwaukee Fortress was built in 1892 and used to be the F. Mayer boot and shoe company. 

It's located in the Brewers Hill neighborhood at 100 E. Pleasant St.

About 50 percent of the building is currently occupied legally as commercial space, but several years ago, the city found dozens of people living there illegally among hazardous conditions. 

The city says about 50 people used the space as live-in artistic units. 

"Some of the exits blocked you into the center of the building so that was a big concern," said Michael Mannan, a district code enforcement supervisor with the City of Milwaukee. "We had to have adequate means of egress for people to get out of the building. You'd have fire escapes that take you to the center of the courtyard which would basically not get you to a public right of way." 

The city took quick action and within a month, everyone had moved out. 

Now a developer plans to completely renovate the building, turning it into luxury apartments and office space. 

"There will be plenty we'll have to do including some remediation," said Joe Alexander, president of the Alexander Company. "We do this work all over the country. The building will be brought up to full modernized systems and will meet code. We'll have to have city approval and involvement." 

Alexander says they plan to acquire the building in spring of 2017 and start construction. It should be completed by the summer of 2018. 

The city conducts annual fire inspections on buildings like the Milwaukee Fortress and says oftentimes people will start living in these buildings without the owners' knowledge. 

"It's something that's a little hard to police because we can't go into every building every day of the week to find out if people are living there," said Mannan. "We usually find out by referral on a complaint basis or by just doing our inspections." 

The hazardous space where people were living is now either empty or used as storage. 

Mannan says if anyone knows of people living in illegal warehouse situations, they should report it by calling 414-286-CITY.