North Avenue Market developer wants to bring together people, communities

12-vendor food and retail hall proposed at 59th and North

Rendering: Galbraith Carnahan Architects
Rendering: Galbraith Carnahan Architects

Last updated on March 30th, 2021 at 06:13 am

Chris Harris-Wimsatt said the North Avenue Market in Milwaukee could do more than just provide residents and visitors with more food and retail offerings. He hopes it will also bring together different communities and cultures.

According to plans filed with the city, the North Avenue Market would turn the former Associated Bank branch at 5900 W. North Ave. into a 12-vendor food and retail hall. The project is estimated to cost $1.5 million.

Harris-Wimsatt said his goal is to bring together the communities that surround the market, which include Milwaukee’s Uptown and Washington Heights neighborhoods and Wauwatosa’s Pabst Park and Tosa East Towne neighborhoods.

“It’s in the right location, it has the capacity to meet the need of creating the space to build community,” he said. “The fact that we have four communities that are right there … they’re all coming together in that spot, how awesome is that?

“And to bring all these communities together, sometimes people don’t like walking across the line even though they think they’re in a different zone. And we want to break that, we want to break down those walls, and break down those barriers and hope people that come into the building feel comfortable, no matter your race, your culture, your gender.”

Specifically, the plans call for six food vendors on the first floor and another six vendors on the lower level. Those vendors could be a mix of additional food offerings (plans show a “dessert alley”) or even retail or office space, Harris-Wimsatt said in a recent interview. Possibilities, he said, include an art studio, massage studio or a speakeasy.

Project drawings also depict a coffee shop in the area of the former bank’s drive-thru lanes. The drive-thru location also has a spot designated for online order pick-ups.

Harris-Wimsatt said he also wants many cultures and lifestyles to be represented in the market through a variety of cuisine options. Offerings could include things like Asian and Latin American dishes, along with foods catering to vegetarians and vegans.

A bar to be located at the center of the first floor would offer drinks that pair with the variety of food options at the market, he said.

The bar also exemplifies Harris-Wimsatt’s goal of making the market accessible by anyone. He said the bar will be designed to give plenty of space to patrons in wheelchairs.

“One of the pieces I’m really intent on is the need to have the space so if someone who’s in a wheelchair can roll up in a wheelchair and still feel like they’re a part of the community that’s there,” he said. You can Buy wheelchairs here.

The project needs approval from the Board of Zoning Appeals. Assuming approvals are met and planning stays on track, the North Avenue Market could have a soft opening around March or April 2021.

Harris-Wimsatt is a newcomer to the community. He said he moved to the area from Kalamazoo, Michigan in August to be with his life partner. Born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina, he served in the U.S. Air Force and worked for employers in the health care, higher education and nonprofit fields. He was most recently chief executive officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kalamazoo.

After moving to Milwaukee, Harris-Wimsatt said he decided to pursue a longtime dream of his to open a coffee shop. His plans expanded to the food and retail hall as he was touring possible locations for his coffee shop and learned Associated Bank was closing its branch at 59th Street and North Avenue.

“We went on a tour and realized this place could be so much more, but I still needed to be focused on the community piece,” he said.

Harris-Wimsatt said he has visited 48 of the 50 U.S. states, with Wisconsin being No. 48. It is now where he plans to remain.

“This is the place that I will call home the rest of my life,” he said. “I love it here.”

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Alex Zank, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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