The Milwaukee VA Soldiers Home Historic District on the grounds of the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center is one of Milwaukee’s most important historic assets. As part of an Enhanced Use Lease (EUL) agreement with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, The Alexander Company and Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee preserved and rehabilitated six of the District’s vacant buildings into 101 supportive housing units for veterans and their families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
The preservation story of the Milwaukee Soldiers Home is one of overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles throughout perseverance, teamwork, and creativity. Just as it did when it was developed in 1867, the Soldiers Home today is poised to change the face of veteran care, serving as a replicable example of what is possible through innovative partnerships.
When efforts began in 2010, the iconic Victorian Gothic Old Main had been vacant for 20 years and had a hole in its roof which threatened to collapse. In March 2021, Old Main and five other historic buildings on the 90+ acre campus reopened in service to veterans. This victory is the result of a decade of hard work by multiple government agencies, private businesses, non-profits, and thousands of individual visionaries and contributors working together.
Under the leadership of The Alexander Company, many partners contributed to make the final deal that saved Soldiers Home. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was involved in all aspects of the project, including issuing the initial RFP and managing the Enhanced Use Lease. The Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee was brought in as the owner, Center for Veterans Issues will operate the facilities, with the Milwaukee VA Medical Center providing case management and supportive services through the HUD-VASH program. The Alexander Company and Ramlow/Stein served as architects with JP Cullen as lead general contractor. The Greater Milwaukee Foundation managed and received individual contributions for the fundraising campaign. Milwaukee Preservation Alliance served as the fiscal agent for the fundraising campaign, assisting with fundraising and providing public outreach, with advocacy efforts reaching back 10+ years.
The Alexander Company creatively arranged a complex capital stack to finance the $44,000,000 project through a hybrid structure using both 9% and 4% Federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits, Federal and State Historic Tax Credits, Military Construction Funds, Capital Magnet Funds, NPS Save America’s Treasures Grant, multiple corporate foundations, and the contributions of 650+ individual donors as part of the Every Hero Deserves a Home capital campaign.
The Milwaukee Soldiers Home, on the grounds of the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center overlooking American Family Field, was built in 1867 as a place of healing for veterans returning from the Civil War. As one of his last acts before being assassinated, President Lincoln signed legislation to create a national system of homes for disabled veterans. Since then, thousands of Wisconsin veterans have called the Milwaukee Soldiers Home their safe haven. One of only 43 National Historic Landmarks in Wisconsin, it contains some of the oldest and most historic buildings in the VA system.
Soldiers Home serves as proof that strategic partnerships, visionary leadership, and creative funding cannot just save buildings, but tackle homelessness, ignite a community, and serve as a national model as well.