In June, Bader Philanthropies will begin construction on its new headquarters in the 3300 block of North King Drive, eventually moving its offices from the Historic Third Ward to Milwaukee’s Harambee neighborhood.
The foundation will renovate an 89-year-old building at 3318 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and enlarge it with a small addition. Bader Philanthropies also purchased two other private properties and four sites owned by the City of Milwaukee to assemble the site for the development.
The news this summer that the region’s largest foundation would be relocating from the Third Ward to Milwaukee’s north side sparked hope in the neighborhood. It also was further proof that the decades of work that has been done to revitalize King Drive are paying off.
The business district of King Drive is the 1.7-mile stretch between West McKinley Avenue to the south and West Locust Street to the north.
Alderwoman Milele Coggs, who represents King Drive, said it is not lost on anyone that King Drive’s proximity to downtown Milwaukee and the new Milwaukee Bucks arena development in the Park East corridor has spurred interest in the street, particularly at the south end.
“There are those of us who have been working to revitalize King Drive for years who have seen this happen over time and those of us who are just starting to see the spark come to the Drive over the last few years,” Coggs said. “But I do think its success is undeniable at this point.”
Just in the past six months, several commercial real estate announcements have been made that will improve the vacancy rate along King Drive and bring new dining and shopping options to the neighborhood.
A former 13,700-square-foot Walgreens store at the northwest corner of North King Drive and West North Avenue will become a Pete’s Fruit Market store. The south side grocer specializing in produce is currently working on the building.
King Drive will have a second grocery store at the former Ponderosa Steakhouse and Stella’s restaurant at 2730 N. King Drive, near Locust Street, when Bruce Martin, the former principal of Lena’s Food Market, opens King’s Fresh Market at the site.
J. Allen Stokes, who serves on Milwaukee’s City Plan Commission and is a board member of the Historic King Drive Business Improvement District, said the decision by Pete’s to open on King Drive was critical.
“At one time, we had National (Supermarkets), A&P (Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. Inc.) and Kroger,” Stokes said. “Now, for the first time since the 1960s, we will have three grocery outlets on King Drive.”
The financial community’s willingness to locate branches on King Drive also has been a driving force in the street’s revitalization, Stokes said.
North Shore Bank and BMO Harris Bank have locations on King Drive and in 2014, Associated Bank opened a highly-visible 3,000-square-foot branch and community park at 1301 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, at the corner of North Sixth Street and West McKinley Avenue.
“Those things contribute to people looking at King Drive as a place to live, work and do business,” Stokes said.
Until now, that bank has been the gateway on the south side of King Drive. Nearby, the National Ace Hardware property, 1303 N. Fourth St., is currently being converted by WiRED Properties and Phelan Development into a community-based retail and office redevelopment.
The development, to be called Hardware Headquarters, will include a bar and restaurant and retail store on the first floor, and office space on the upper level floors. It will be the south-side bookend to King Drive, said Deshea Agee, executive director of the Historic King Drive Business Improvement District.
The north-side bookend is the Welford Sanders Historic Lofts, 2801-2821 N. Fourth St., a $14 million development that will convert the six-story former Nunn Bush Shoe Co. factory into 58 apartments and 38,000 square feet of commercial and office space.
“We’ve got some good bookends,” Agee said. “Now it’s just a matter of filling it all in.”
Since being named executive director of the BID in March after working at Milwaukee’s Department of City Development for nine years, Agee has worked to connect the residents in the neighborhoods in the BID, which include Harambee, Brewers Hill, Halyard Park, Bronzeville and Haymarket, to the commercial district.
“There is what we have now, and what folks need to leave their neighborhood to get,” Agee said. “We need the ice cream shop, the pizza shop, youth sports apparel and a hobby shop. I know we need it because I’m leaving the neighborhood for those services.”
Agee, who is the currently the only employee of the BID, has been working tirelessly to make this happen, often skipping lunch or opting for a smoothie from Growing Power Café, 2719 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, which is located next door to his office.
The Greater Milwaukee Foundation recently gave the BID a $25,000 grant Agee will use to add an associate director position. Agee would also like to get more activity on the street, work with developers and brokers to attract development to vacant sites, and add more market-rate housing to the area.
And while the Bader Philanthropies headquarters is not technically a part of his BID, Agee sees the move as a huge win.
“It gives us a further bookend to the north,” he said. “And it’s a King Drive address. There are about 900 King Drive addresses in the nation, so the goal is to make Milwaukee’s King Drive the best of all of them.”
Despite the recent successes, Agee and the other champions of King Drive continue to struggle with attracting commercial development to the area north of North Avenue. Most of the recent development that has occurred on the street has been south of North Avenue, which intersects King Drive at the 2300 block.
Agee believes the King’s Fresh Market in the 2700 block will help. Coggs has another idea.
“We will continue to sell the beauty and the rich history of the Harambee neighborhood,” Coggs said. “And if that does not get them, there is only so much space south of North Avenue (eventually, development will come north). If you want to be close to downtown, King Drive is a direct shot.”
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