‘Creativity Works Here’

The Shops of Grand Avenue is marketing long-vacant space, especially the space on the second floor of the downtown mall’s Plankinton Building, to office tenants.

In particular, creative businesses are being targeted for the space. The mall has formed a partnership with Creative Alliance Milwaukee for an initiative called Creativity Works Here. The program is designed to foster the growth of Milwaukee’s creative industries and to revive The Shops of Grand Avenue.

The idea behind the program is to cluster creative companies together at the mall to spur their own growth and provide much-needed tenants, plus generate more foot traffic, in the mall.

Earlier this year Spreenkler LLC, an interactive design and marketing agency, moved its office from Bay View to a 6,800-square-foot space in the mall formerly occupied by an Express store. Other companies sharing space with Spreenkler include: Flipeleven Creative, a creative agency; SmallSharpTools, an open source programming firm; and Tracy Apps Design, a graphic design and app development firm.

In addition, BizStarts Milwaukee plans to eventually establish a presence in the Spreenkler space.

“It’s really great having space here. It’s a cool neighborhood space where people can really come together. It’s collaborative,” said Steve Glynn, founder of Spreenkler. “It has really started to become the Mecca of the creative community. The potential of this space is incredible. It’s a great space for us to collaborate and live out our vision.”

Art Milwaukee, an arts advocacy group, recently leased a 4,300-square-foot space on the lower level of the mall that was formerly occupied by a charter school. Art Milwaukee will move into the space in July.

“We needed to have a headquarters, an actual brick and mortar space, but we were having a hard time deciding where that should be,” said Angela Damiani, director of community outreach for Art Milwaukee. “When Spreenkler moved into the Grand Avenue space, we decided we needed to check it out.”

The mall landed another office tenant, Veteran Entrepreneurial Transfer Inc. (VETransfer), an incubator for businesses started by U.S. Military veterans, for the 15,000-square-foot former Old Navy store space in the mall.

Stone Creek Coffee also recently expanded its presence at the mall and now occupies an entire skywalk where it previously just had a kiosk.

As part of the Creatively Works Here program, the mall is offering rental rates at below-market rates.

“Rates are substantially lower than market rates,” the mall said in materials for a Creativity Works Here open house. “Rental rates will be based upon the type of use and the space desired and will be negotiated individually with each perspective tenant. Our rental rates begin at $300 a month and include everything but cleaning and parking.”

“They gave us a really good deal,” Glynn said.

The Creativity Works Here program is the first major new initiative tried for The Shops of Grand Avenue since it was acquired by Stamford, Conn.-based Five Mile Capital Partners LLC last year. City and community leaders hope the program will help finally revitalize the mall, which has struggled for years with a high vacancy rate.

“We’re very pleased that it is developing in this direction,” said Jeff Fleming, spokesman for the Department of City Development (DCD). “For a long time, the Department of City Development has pointed out that the Grand Avenue needed to evolve. It needed to take on new ideas and perhaps a new form. This is one step in the right direction. We have positive feelings about the arts connections that are being made with the Grand Avenue.”

“(The Grand Avenue space) fits beautifully into this model of economic place making,” said Julia Taylor, president of the Greater Milwaukee Committee. “It’s inexpensive space that has a real ‘coolness’ to it. I’m glad that the connection happened. We knew we couldn’t force it, but it’s nice to see this kind of energy returning to a space that really could be central to the downtown community.”

“People are interested in what is going on here,” said Christine Harris, former executive director of the Creative Alliance of Milwaukee. “It could become the home base hub for creative services and start to become a physical home for many of those types of activities. I think it could absolutely change the face of downtown not only in terms of artistic retail opportunities, but business-to-business collaborations and tourism for the area.”

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