It would be a crime if you missed what’s happening downtown

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:21 pm

SBT Editor
One of our employees was stopped by a policeman a couple of blocks from our downtown Milwaukee offices a few weeks ago. The employee, not a native of Milwaukee, was walking against the light. The policeman, who makes his rounds on a bicycle, read the riot act to the SBT employee, but didn’t ticket him.
Seemingly no big deal.
But it is a big deal, if you look beyond that single incident. The point is that the policeman wasn’t spending his time chasing down criminals that roam the streets of downtown Milwaukee waiting to prey on anyone who dares to venture into the city’s commercial heart.
And that’s because there aren’t criminals roaming the streets of downtown Milwaukee. There are plenty of policemen – some walking, some on bicycles, some on horses and some in cars – making sure of that, with the helping eyes of downtown’s ambassador crew and the Grand Avenue Mall’s ever-present security force.
But perceptions are still strong. Downtown retailer George Watts notes that, while there is virtually no crime in his shop’s East Town neighborhood, 50% to 60% of his potential customers won’t come downtown because they’re afraid of crime.
Watts, who keeps tabs on the crime statistics through regular meetings with the police, gave his account at a recent lunch meeting of the American Marketing Association-Milwaukee Chapter.
He fosters a level of comfort through the store’s valet parking service and his upscale version of Wal-Mart’s greeters.
Another challenge downtown retailers face is the perception of a lack of parking, added Steve Kennedy, the new general manager of the Grand Avenue Mall which, he notes, has a covered, 1,780-space parking structure that shields shoppers from the rain and snow.
And Boston Store, which is undergoing a major renovation project to be completed in October, also has a covered parking structure with enclosed access to the store. The store offers three hours of free parking to anyone who spends at least $25, said Keith Waltersdorf, vice president for Boston Store.
The Grand Avenue offers two hours of parking for 25 cents, with a minimum $5 purchase at a store in the mall.
The mall itself will be renovated this year, starting with the west side, adjacent to Boston Store. Once that’s done, tenants from the east side, in the Plankinton building, will be moved to the west side, and reconstruction of the Plankinton spaces will begin, creating larger store spaces that are expected to be more attractive to national retailers.
Kennedy said the mall has noted the presence of thousands of college students in and around downtown, and will focus some of its efforts on attracting retailers who cater to that demographic. Marquette, UW-Milwaukee, Milwaukee School of Engineering, Milwaukee Area Technical College, and Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design are all in the area.
There’s a lot more going on downtown than the evolution of the retail scene. The entertainment scene is thriving. Residential numbers are growing. And classic buildings, such as Gimbels (now the ASQ Center), are getting new life.
So come on down to see what’s happening. We won’t shoot or rob you, but we might ask you to wait for the green light to cross the street.
April 27, 2001 Small Business Times

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