Haertel refiles Pabst brewery lawsuit

By Small Business Times

Jim Haertel, the president of Brew City Redevelopment Group LLC, has refiled his lawsuit against his former partners in the failed PabstCity plan to redevelop the former Pabst brewery in downtown Milwaukee.

Haertel sued Juneau Avenue Partners LLC and its individual members, including Wisconsin Energy Corp. real estate arm Wispark LLC, Wispark president Jerold Franke, Cleveland-based Ferchill Group and Ferchill Group president John Ferchill.

Haertel accused Juneau Avenue Partners of breaking the deal he had with them. He says they did not provide him with title to three of the brewery buildings in a timely matter, did not make payments to him and caused damage to his reputation. Haertel also claims he was pressured to sell his stake in the development by Juneau Avenue Partners.

Haertel’s lawsuit is seeking damages for several claims, including punitive damages.

In 2001, Haertel acquired the right to purchase the 22-acre brewery complex for $12 million. Later he formed a partnership with Wispark and Ferchill in a deal that called for him to own and develop three of the buildings in the complex and receive five percent ownership in a development partnership.

Haertel filed suit against the other partners in 2004, saying they were not honoring the deal. But a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge dismissed most of the nine claims in his lawsuit.

The circuit court judge also ruled that Haertel could only sue Juneau Avenue Partners, and not the other defendants, which were part of that partnership, including Wispark and Ferchill Group.

Juneau Avenue Partners no longer exists because in 2005, the Milwaukee Common Council rejected a proposed $41 million city subsidy, most in the form of tax incremental financing (TIF), for the PabstCity project, which would have transformed the brewery into a multi-use entertainment district.

Juneau Avenue Partners then sold the brewery property to Zilber Ltd. founder Joseph Zilber, who is now redeveloping the property, with the help of $29 million in TIF. Zilber is not involved in the lawsuit. Haertel has now received title to his buildings in the brewery complex and is moving forward with redevelopment plans, which he says will include a Hofbrauhaus microbrewery and restaurant.

Haertel appealed the circuit court ruling to the state Court of Appeals, which ruled in his favor restoring most of his claims. Juneau Avenue Partners appealed that decision to the state Supreme Court, which in December also ruled in Haertel’s favor.

The state Supreme Court decision allowed Haertel to move forward with most of the claims in his lawsuit, and allowed him to sue all of the defendants, including Wispark, Franke, Ferchill Group and Ferchill.

With that ruling in place, Haertel has now re-filed his lawsuit in Milwaukee Circuit Court against Juneau Avenue Partners, and the partners themselves on an individual basis.

“Hopefully now everybody knows who we can sue and what we can sue them for,” Haertel said. “I can’t wait until we do discovery.”