Article written byTeddy Nykiel of the Milwaukee Business Journal.
From a giant hydroponic greenhouse in Janesville that would create hundreds of jobs and tons of local strawberries, to a Starbucks store in Greendale that’s helping to fund scholarships for a nearby school, Milwaukee real estate development firm Three Leaf Partners seeks projects that both turn a profit and make a difference.
Co-founded by Milwaukee Bucks player Pat Connaughton and Matt Burow, the CEO of Milwaukee’s Catalyst Construction, Three Leaf Partners has recently grown its team and the size and scope of its projects. What started as Connaughton’s home-flipping business now employs 17 people, invests money from more than 100 investors including many other professional athletes, and develops projects costing tens of millions of dollars.
Three Leaf Partners has a propensity for multifamily developments and also does mixed-use, commercial and senior living projects. Even as it has grown, it selects projects based on relationships with partners in the local real estate world as it also looks to make an impact — a strategy Connaughton sees as a competitive advantage.
“We want to make sure we’re using real estate as an asset for not just our employees, but for our investors and for the communities that we develop in,” Connaughton said. “An investor is able to say, ‘Wow, I made some money but I also had this type of impact along the way.’”
The firm has found even its smaller projects can make a meaningful impact. For instance, the Starbucks store that Three Leaf Partners developed near Greendale’s Southridge Mall helped to finance around 20 scholarships for the nearby Martin Luther High School, Connaughton said.
Three Leaf Partners has around 12 projects in southeast Wisconsin that are in the works at various stages of the development process, plus additional projects in other states.
“A lot of the pipeline we have over the next two to three years is multifamily projects,” Three Leaf Partners chief operating officer Derek Taylor said.
Three Leaf Partners is in the process of building a 39-unit apartment building in Shorewood expected to be completed this summer and will soon begin work on 55 apartments on Milwaukee’s Downer Avenue.
It’s also pursuing apartment projects in West Allis and Grafton, as well as a project that would add more than 400 rental units in Hartland, where it previously built 150 apartments in a project known as the Woodnote Residences. It recently wrapped up the 141-unit Taxco apartments in Walker’s Point in partnership with Milwaukee’s Mandel Group.
While multifamily projects comprise around two-thirds of Three Leaf’s pipeline, the firm is “opportunistic and entrepreneurial,” which has led it to other types of projects, Three Leaf Partners president John Ford said.
“It’s really where relationships take us,” Ford said, noting that most of the firm’s deals are found through relationships cultivated by Connaughton, Burow and other members of the Three Leaf team.
Three Leaf is planning a 175-acre development in Janesville that would have multifamily and single-family housing, industrial space, and a hydroponic greenhouse operated through a partnership with Local Roots of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
The Janesville project could have an economic impact of around $250 million to $300 million and create 400 to 500 permanent, good-paying jobs, Ford said.
“That’s not a project that comes to a community very often,” Ford said. “It’s a monumental project.”
Three Leaf is also collaborating with Ansay Development Corp., Mel’s Charities and Balance Inc. on a 130-acre project in Saukville that’s slated to include apartments, retail, a hotel, a sports facility, and housing and services to support adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Other mixed-use projects in the works for Three Leaf include a 129-acre development in Slinger that could include single-family and multifamily housing, commercial and light-manufacturing space, and an assisted living facility.
In terms of senior living projects, Three Leaf is involved in building an upscale senior living community in Mequon through a partnership with Wauwatosa’s Matter Development. It also has an upcoming senior living project in Mount Pleasant, Taylor said.
In addition to its Wisconsin projects, Three Leaf is constructing a mixed-use building in South Bend, Indiana, that’s within walking distance of the University of Notre Dame campus, where Connaughton attended college. The firm also is pursuing projects in Michigan, Texas, South Dakota, Arizona and Georgia.