Grunau says Milwaukee must seize catalytic opportunities

Gary Grunau, a Milwaukee developer who has also been involved in numerous civic projects and community boards, says Milwaukee has four immediate catalytic opportunities that should be resolved soon and “could really help our city move ahead.”

“When there is a catalytic event, we’ve got to seize the opportunity, and we’ve got to make it happen,” he said.

Grunau was recently named the winner of the BizTimes Lifetime Achievement Award. In his award acceptance speech at the BizExpo at Potawatomi Bingo Casino, Grunau called on community leaders to take advantage of these opportunities.

The ongoing study of a new downtown Milwaukee arena and capital needs for cultural and entertainment facilities demonstrates a major opportunity for the community, Grunau said.

The NBA says the Milwaukee Bucks need a new arena to replace the BMO Harris Bradley Center, built in 1988. New Bucks owners Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens have pledged to contribute $100 million and former team owner Herb Kohl has pledged $100 million toward the project.

“I personally think (a new arena) is going to happen,” Grunau said. “But I ask that we don’t just handle that by itself; that we handle also the convention center (expansion), which is needed. The zoo needs funds. The parks need funds. The Milwaukee Public Museum needs funds, the Marcus Center, the art museum. Wrap it all together. In eight years with a half-cent sales tax in (Milwaukee County) alone we could raise enough money to take care of all of those problems and end up with a new arena, an expanded convention center, a world class zoo, parks system, museum and everything else.”

Plans for a public bike sharing system, a downtown Milwaukee streetcar and the possible sale of the Shops of Grand Avenue are also major opportunities for Milwaukee, Grunau said.

“The easiest one is a bike sharing program,” he said.

Under the Milwaukee BikeShare initiative (which is primarily federally funded), plans are ongoing to establish a network of 100 bike share stations, with 1,000 bikes, including several stations downtown but also stations in other parts of the city and in suburban communities including Shorewood, Wauwatosa and West Allis.

“This is a very important thing that changes the viewpoint of people of the city and also the transportation systems,” Grunau said.

Speaking of transportation, Grunau also said the city must get the proposed $65 million downtown streetcar system up and running.

“Let’s break the deadlock on transportation,” he said. “Every major city that we compete with has a transportation system that works, and a modern one.”

The city has received about $58 million in federal funds for the system, but is still working with utility companies to reduce the utility relocation costs for the project.

“I think by changing the route of the streetcar, changing where it’s going, slightly, maybe getting it down to the lakefront, we can break this log jam,” Grunau said.

The downtown streetcar would be a starter system that could eventually expand to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the Milwaukee County Research Park in Wauwatosa, he said.

Meanwhile, a major opportunity could be at hand to revitalize the troubled Shops of Grand Avenue. The downtown Milwaukee mall was scheduled to be sold in an online auction from June 17 to 19 at Auction.com, but the auction was recently postponed until later this year. The sale of the mall could finally spur a transformation of the property.

“If we reposition it in the marketplace (use it for) educational, residential, some retail, you’ll find that whole area (around West Wisconsin Avenue) will flourish,” Grunau said.

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