Inspiration to team up on real estate revitalization projects in Milwaukee never has been more than a car ride or fish fry away for attorney Michael Hatch.
In the almost three decades since planting his roots in the Midwest as a real estate attorney with Foley & Lardner LLP, Hatch has been involved sub rosa with projects that have reshaped the makeup of the city: the University Club Tower, East Point Commons and the Milwaukee Center, to name a few.
Hatch also has worked through nonprofit organizations to revive some of the more depreciated neighborhoods and properties in Milwaukee, such as the Menomonee Valley, which, upon his first car rides through the city in the early ’70s “looked like East Berlin after the war,” he said.
“It was really frightening to think that there was this much abandoned, obsolete and probably dangerous real estate so close to downtown Milwaukee,” Hatch said. “You could drive miles along I-94 coming into town and that’s what people saw. It was not a very attractive entry point into the city.”
A native of northwestern New York state, Hatch first came to Milwaukee in the summer of 1973 as a clerk for Foley & Lardner, although the firm at the time was without the property focus that he sought.
A few months after he returned to Yale University for his final year of law school, Foley reorganized and made him its youngest and first outside hire in their new real estate practice area. That role put him at the forefront of a generation’s worth of real estate change in the city, played out most recently in the slow proceedings and “very complicated financial structure” of the downtown multi-block retail and residential development, The North End.
Hatch also has applied his legal acumen to the neighborhood building organization, Local Initiative Support Corp., and Menomonee Valley Partners, a nonprofit he co-founded based on those first impressions of the valley. The group has developed hundreds of acres of brownfields into dozens of new and expanding businesses, as well as parks and trails.
Hatch also spearheaded fundraising and reconstruction activity at the historic Turner Ballroom after his fish fry waiter gave him a tour of the fire damaged Teutonic meeting hall.
“As a real estate lawyer, my interest is in the physical environment around me, particularly the built-in environment where I live,” he said. “I believe I would’ve taken an interest in bringing my skills to help improve wherever I lived.”