By Sean Ryan – Reporter, Milwaukee Business Journal
Aug 29, 2021, 7:00pm EDT
Seeing business remain steady through the Covid-19 pandemic, Milwaukee moving and logistics company CH Coakley continues to invest in its local buildings and now plans to outfit them all with solar power.
“We looked at what we could do to improve operations here to make them more attractive, make them more marketable, increase the values and reduce the energy costs,” said president Mike Coakley.
The initiative starts with three buildings that by the end of this year will have new solar panels on their rooftops. That includes two industrial buildings Coakley recently purchased after selling its former flagship on North Martin Luther King Jr. Drive for the ThriveOn Collaboration redevelopment.
It is an almost $2 million investment for the first three buildings, said executive vice president Steve Swanson. He said there are benefits to reducing the risk of future energy price increases that would impact company operating costs.
“In the future, if things jump up, we’re protecting ourselves to a certain degree in taking certain pieces off the table,” Swanson said. “We have some control over that if we can produce free energy to some degree.”
The solar cells will produce enough electricity to cut at least one-third of the buildings’ energy costs. Savings on the utility bills will exceed the upfront cost of installing the solar panels within six years, Coakley said.
“A lot of our clients like the fact that Coakley is taking the initiative, putting the money where our mouth is and investing into solar,” he said. “That’s a component that all of the corporations want to see.”
The buildings receiving solar this year are the about 192,000-square-foot warehouse at 1400 S. 113th St. that Coakley bought in late 2020, its warehouse on Northpark Drive in Menomonee Falls and the 375,000-square-foot Milwaukee building at 6101 N. 64th St. the company acquired in late January, Swanson said.
The recent building purchases stemmed from Coakley’s sale of its 400,000-square-foot King Drive facility in Milwaukee. The company sold the bulk of that former Schuster’s Department Store to be converted into affordable housing and offices for the Greater Milwaukee Foundation and the Medical College of Wisconsin. CH Coakley’s main offices remain on King Drive.
Proceeds from that sale paid for the two recent acquisitions, which resulted in a net increase of about 170,000 square feet for Coakley’s local real estate holdings. It now owns eight buildings with about 1.9 million square feet.
“The warehousing side continues to be pretty robust, and even the commercial office moving is actually rather robust even through the last year of Covid,” Coakley said.
The pandemic forced many companies to delay their long-term decisions about future office needs, but projects that were already underway before March 2020 generated work for Coakley last year. That includes moving and storing office equipment for BMO Harris, which moved into the new BMO Tower in downtown Milwaukee. Coakley also moved law firms Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, the other anchor of BMO Tower, and Husch Blackwell, which moved to the recently completed Huron Building in downtown Milwaukee.
BMO Harris and Michael Best were both “white glove” moves because their employees were not in the office due to Covid-19.
“Normally, we work in conjunction with the individuals, but not last year,” he said. “Coakley came in and we did the entire move from pack, load, organize, unload and unpack and organize.”
Going forward, Coakley expects more work as companies reconsider the sizes of their offices and, in some cases, downsize as more employees work from home. The company also has remained busy in its third-party logistics services for telecommunications companies that are building up their 5G infrastructure, he said.
“That has just been a robust industry for the last several years,” he said. “We continue to see more activity coming in the near future.”