As reported in By Sean Ryan

Milwaukee-based Phoenix Investors on Tuesday bought the Wauwatosa warehouse that J.C. Penney Co. will close this year for $31.25 million and plans to renovate the more than 2 million-square-foot building.

J.C. Penney in February announced plans to close its distribution center and call center on the west side of Interstate 41, laying off 670 employees. The company will move out over the next several months, and Phoenix Investors is laying plans to refill the building by leasing it to new companies.

Phoenix Chairman & Founder Frank P. Crivello predicted new businesses moving into the facility will grow the workforce located there.

“Virtually everyone in metro Milwaukee knows someone that either worked at the facility or had a relative that worked there,” said Crivello. “As the largest owner of industrial warehouse and manufacturing space in Wisconsin, we are uniquely qualified to re-position these buildings in a manner that will result in a number of new high-quality companies occupying portions of the complex.”

The building dwarfs any other single industrial building in the region. It represents a huge amount of manufacturing and warehousing space to add to a market that is short on high-end, available buildings. Phoenix Investors, with a headquarters office in downtown Milwaukee, has specialized in these kinds of deals for almost a decade and has an ownership interest in about 20 million square feet of building space in 23 states. It has bought shuttered industrial buildings from corporations including Whirlpool Corp., rehabbed them and leased them.

“While our formal marketing has not yet begun, we have already had an overwhelming interest in the J.C. Penney property from virtually every regional brokerage firm on behalf of their clients,” said Kurt Jensen, senior vice president of Phoenix. “The demand exceeds the available space. We are in active discussions with over a dozen quality companies for portions of the complex.”

J.C. Penney built the plant from the 1950s through the 1970s, expanding it over time. The company has not used the entire building space for several years, and in recent years has closed stores and shut down other U.S. distribution centers. The JCPenney Furniture Outlet store in the far southern end of the Wauwatosa building is closed.

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