Greater Milwaukee Committee forming downtown development plan

Toni Griffin, Greg Wesley, Alex Molinaroli, Rocky Marcoux and Omar Shaikh discuss downtown development at a Greater Milwaukee Committee meeting Monday.

Last updated on May 15th, 2019 at 05:05 pm

The Greater Milwaukee Committee’s Downtown Task Force, launched earlier this year, has contracted with urban planning consultant Toni Griffin as it evaluates the challenges and opportunities facing Milwaukee’s downtown.

Toni Griffin, Greg Wesley, Alex Molinaroli, Rocky Marcoux and Omar Shaikh discuss downtown development at the Greater Milwaukee Committee meeting Monday.
Toni Griffin, Greg Wesley, Alex Molinaroli, Rocky Marcoux and Omar Shaikh discuss downtown development at the Greater Milwaukee Committee meeting Monday.

Griffin, founder of Urban Planning & Design for the American City, has been working with Task Force to study Milwaukee’s downtown and help develop its action agenda goals.

Linda Gorens-Levey, partner at General Capital Group, Alex Molinaroli, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Johnson Controls Inc., and Greg Wesley, equity partner at Golzalez, Saggio & Harlan LLP, serve as co-chairs of the Task Force.  Their role has been to garner support from Milwaukee’s business and civic leaders to create a long-term vision for the city.

Griffin has been working with the task force for about eight weeks. She spoke at the GMC’s November member meeting Monday to give an update on their work in setting a strategic framework for downtown development.

Among the goals she addressed were market-driven opportunities for economic growth, equitable economic inclusion, connecting downtown to the greater Milwaukee region, encouraging downtown vitality and setting clear priorities and goals for the future.

Some issues to evaluate in Milwaukee, she said, are defining the boundaries of the downtown area, building the downtown brand, increasing population density, communicating its value proposition, creating public/private partnerships, and implementing a larger plan that includes outcomes, targets and priorities.

A panel discussion followed Griffin’s remarks. Molinaroli, Wesley, Griffin and Rocky Marcoux, commissioner of the Milwaukee Department of City Development, weighed in on downtown development.

“The task force as I see what we’ve been able to accomplish and what we can accomplish is nothing more than a vehicle to bring a whole lot of people who are doing a lot of great things together,” Molinaroli said. “There’s a lot of individual efforts happening across the city.”

The task force has a unique opportunity to do something with the city, with the community, and throughout the broader region, he said.

“The mayor really would like to have a unified effort on this and would like to work together with this group and the entire community,” Marcoux said.

Griffin described Milwaukee’s downtown as “sprawling,” which can lend itself to pockets rather than unity.

“People like to talk about post-industrial cities, but Milwaukee is still very much an industrial town,” Griffin said. “There’s something in your legacy that makes your potential for growth slightly unique.”

Milwaukee tends to jump from one catalytic project to the next, but having a broader plan could lead to greater opportunity and growth, she said.

“My observation is that sometimes we lead by kind of a crisis in the community,” Wesley said. “That’s just not a great way to run a city or a company or a region.”

Moving forward, Griffin and the Downtown Task Force will continue to engage business and civic leaders, as well as community members, by forming a project steering committee and hosting focus groups, roundtables and workshops regarding downtown development.

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Molly Dill
Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.