The Historic King Drive Business Improvement District is now searching for a new leader, upon the announcement that existing executive director Deshea Agee is stepping down. The national search for Agee's replacement comes at a time when the BID is active with a number of major initiatives, which include work on a catalytic mixed-use development and mapping out a long-term plan on traffic calming and streetscaping efforts. BID leaders announced yesterday that Agee will remain in a part-time advisory capacity until a new executive director is found. They estimate the search, which has just begun, will take a few months. In a statement, the BID noted it has several major initiatives the new executive director will be tasked with leading. The first such initiative listed is the potential catalytic mixed-use project. The BID is finalizing a plan to attract investors and a development partner, but it has provided few details beyond that. James Phelps, president of Milwaukee-based JCP Construction and King Drive BID board president, did not give the project's exact location. He said it will be along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, somewhere between North Avenue and Burleigh Street. Phelps said the BID is working with a design firm to see what would be feasible at the site. An entity of the BID should have control of the site between 30 and 60 days, he said. The idea is to create momentum for the middle portion of the King Drive corridor. The area south of North Avenue has been stable, Phelps said, as it has seen its share of business growth and real estate development in recent years. The area north of Burleigh is undergoing a transformation of its own, led by Milwaukee-based Bader Philanthropies Inc. "There's that section in between as well, essentially where Welford Sanders (former former executive director of Martin Luther King Economic Development Corp.) was doing a lot of his developments," he said. "So, it's kind of the in-between North and Burleigh area that, work's been started, but there is still a lot more to do there to keep that progress going and keep that momentum." Phelps said the BID will not act as the project developer. It plans to do preliminary work up to the point where it can bring on a development firm. "We're not developers at the end of the day," he said. "What we want to do is make sure that we foster economic development in the corridor." Another major initiative involves traffic calming and streetscaping. Phelps noted King Drive will undergo a road diet this summer. It will reduce the two driving lanes to one, and add bike lanes and turn lanes at intersections. Other city corridors have gotten a similar treatment in previous years. But that work is viewed as just the start of a long-term vision. Agee said last year a student-led group from the UW-Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning created early imaging of the streetscape between Capitol and McKinley. That dovetailed into a study that now includes Kansas City-based engineering firm HNTB. The BID is also speaking with local business owners and residents "to help envision what that big possibility is," Agee said. From those sessions, they've heard that not only is traffic calming important, but so is creating a sense of place. Traffic calming and transit-oriented developments are two pieces to the puzzle, he said. The BID is in support of a streetcar extension along King Drive. "With the streetscaping, we're looking at what could be good, better and best as far as having amenities that are consistent throughout the whole district, branding that is consistent throughout the whole district and making the whole entire district of King Drive a more pedestrian-friendly avenue to help increase business even more," Phelps said. The third major BID initiative involves continued business retention and attraction in the corridor. Ongoing programs include a new $25,000 loan fund, matched by North Shore Bank; BID grants; a $275,000 loan fund through Brew City Match and Local Initiatives Support Corp. Milwaukee; and supporting the city of Milwaukee's white box grant program. Lastly, the BID and its partners will finalize the Victory Over Violence Park through projects in the next two years. The one-acre park is located at 2615 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. It is being reinvigorated as a healing space for victims of trauma, as well as an event space and botanical garden. The recently expanded business improvement district covers most of King Drive, from McKinley Avenue to Capitol Drive. It also includes several blocks of Vel R. Phillips Avenue, Pleasant Street and North Avenue.
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