Juli Kaufmann, president of Milwaukee-based Fix Development LLC, is an urban development pioneer.
“I’m attracted to projects where there is need for a catalyst and a need for innovation,” she said. “I want to make money, but I also want to make a difference.”
Kaufmann was one of the first developers to see the potential for revitalization of Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood. Her Walker’s Point projects include the Clock Shadow Building and the Freshwater Fix building, home of Purple Door Ice Cream.
Located south of the Historic Third Ward, Walker’s Point has become one of the hottest development areas of the city.
“(Walker’s Point) has turned the corner,” Kaufmann said.
Rather than ride the wave of a booming neighborhood, Kaufmann prefers to do projects where she can help spark a turnaround. So with Walker’s Point in the midst of a renaissance, she is shifting her focus to the city’s Lindsay Heights neighborhood, located northwest of downtown.
“I view it as a tremendous neighborhood with amazing opportunity,” she said. “I just see so much promise. There is so much opportunity.”
Lindsay Heights is located in one of the most impoverished areas of Milwaukee. But the neighborhood has a high population density and North Avenue and Fond du Lac Avenue have high traffic levels.
Despite the obvious challenges facing Lindsay Heights, the neighborhood is severely underserved, so when residents there have money to spend they need to shop elsewhere. That economic leakage from the neighborhood shows that there is an opportunity for businesses to succeed there, Kaufmann said.
Kaufmann is involved in two development projects in Lindsay Heights, and could end up doing more work there in the future.
She is partnering with Jeremy Davis to redevelop a three-story, 3,432-square-foot building at 1848 W. Fond du Lac Ave. into a mixed use building with a restaurant on the first floor, office space on the second floor and possibly a residential apartment on the third floor.
The building, once home to a popular supper club, is currently owned by the city, which acquired it via property tax foreclosure. The Common Council will consider a proposal to sell the building and a nearby vacant lot to Kaufmann and Davis for $5,000. The estimated cost of the redevelopment project is $425,000, according to the city.
Kaufmann will move her office to an office space on the building’s second floor. Bottlewood Communications LLC has also signed a letter of intent to occupy office space in the building.
Davis is a Lindsay Heights resident and an environmental specialist at Walnut Way Conservation Corp., a nonprofit organization that works to improve the southern portion of Lindsay Heights. Kaufmann said she will be a mentor to Davis in hopes of teaching him skills he can use to do additional development projects on his own in Lindsay Heights in the future.
Kaufmann is also the co-developer with Walnut Way on The Innovation and Wellness Commons, aka The Commons, project at 1609-15 W. North Ave.
The Commons is a two-phase, $6 million project. The first phase, which will cost $2 million, is under construction and consists of the redevelopment of the two-story, 6,512-square-foot, 109-year-old building at 1615 W. North Ave. The building is already 100 percent leased by Outpost Natural Foods, Milwaukee Center for Independence, The Juice Kitchen and Fondy Food Center. Outpost Natural Foods will open a pop-up store and, if it is successful, will open a larger store in the second phase of The Commons. Milwaukee Center for Independence will have a commercial kitchen in the building. Fondy Food Center will move its headquarters to the building.
“The first phase (of The Commons) and part of the second phase is a food hub,” Kaufmann said. “It reflects a real interest and a need and demand for healthy food options in the neighborhood.”
The second phase of The Commons will be a 9,000-square-foot new building that will be built next to the 1615 W. North Ave. building.
Other potential tenants for The Commons include: the Milwaukee Community Business Collaborative Inc., Legacy Redevelopment Corp., Aurora Health Care and independent wellness services. Walnut Way Conservation Corp. might move some of its operations into The Commons. However, the project has such strong interest from potential tenants that there might not be space available for Walnut Way, Kaufmann said.
“Phase II is not completely finalized,” she said. “We have more interest than space available at the moment.”
The Zilber Neighborhood Initiative is playing a vital role in The Commons project, Kaufmann said. The initiative began in 2008 when Zilber Ltd. founder Joseph Zilber pledged $50 million in a multi-faceted effort to “rebuild” low-income neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Lindsay Heights was selected as one of the first neighborhoods the initiative would work to improve and Walnut Way was chosen to lead the effort in Lindsay Heights. The Zilber Neighborhood Initiative is the lead investor in The Commons and provided a $500,000 grant, Kaufmann said.
“(The Commons) definitively is a direct correlation to the work (of the Zilber Neighborhood Initiative),” Kaufmann said.
Kaufmann said the Lindsay Heights neighborhood presents a “wonderful opportunity to make a difference” and said she uses “unique private sector models” that can help.
“I feel a real deep sense of personal responsibility to help improve the quality of life for all,” she said. “It takes a collaborative effort to make it happen.”