Ah, Milwaukee in February. Sometimes it feels like we’re slipping into a comfortable mid-winter slumber. However, like ducks on the pond, we may appear to be gliding along, but beneath the water, there’s a whole lot of paddling going on.
Based upon several conversations at the Milwaukee Press Club’s Milwaukee City Birthday Party recently, here are some random predictions to watch for when the pond thaws in the spring.
- The effort to change state law to give control of Milwaukee Public Schools to the mayor of Milwaukee may be toast. The Milwaukee state legislative delegation is divided on the issue. Up-state legislators, who usually couldn’t care less about Milwaukee anyway, see no reason to carry the torch for the cause. The Republicans have no desire to throw Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett any kind of a bone this year as he prepares to run against either Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker or former Congressman Mark Neumann in the race to be the next governor.
- Speaking of the gubernatorial race … presuming Walker defeats Neumann in the Republican primary, Milwaukee would lose either its mayor or its county executive in November. That scenario has Democratic and Republican operatives scurrying about to line up candidates to be the next mayor or county executive.
- If Barrett wins, look for Democrats to turn to Milwaukee Common Council President Willie Hines Jr. or Alderman Michael Murphy for consideration to be the next mayor. Should Walker win, expect Republicans to lean hard on State Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale) to make a bid for county executive.
- While we’re on the south side of the county, Oak Creek and Franklin have been unable to come up with the matching local funds that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation would require to build a new freeway interchange on Interstate 94 at Drexel Avenue. Later this year, look for Northwestern Mutual Insurance Co. to pony up and cover the heretofore missing dollars. The Quiet Company is hush about its plans, but sources say Northwestern Mutual needs the exit ramp to serve its sprawling campus on South 27th Street. The company also has acquired several parcels of land surrounding the campus, and a freeway exit at Drexel Avenue would add commercial value to the properties.
- Speaking of commercial real estate, the folks at Summerfest have narrowed their search for an architect to design their improvements on the south end of the lakefront grounds to four companies, three of which are from Milwaukee. Here’s hoping one of the local firms gets the Big Gig.
- Meanwhile, some of downtown Milwaukee’s high-end restaurants are really struggling, as the recession diminished their clientele. Some of these venerable restaurants might not make it to the summer. Others may try to negotiate for cheaper leases to keep the doors open for a few more months.
- And speaking of retail, Walgreens will soon make a push to gain permission to sell beer at its stores in Milwaukee County.
- Finally, can you feel the economy picking up? Employment and construction are lagging economic indicators. Public relations is one of those industries I consider to be a leading indicator of things to come. The City Birthday Party was teeming with PR folks, many of whom told me that they’re off to a good start for 2010 and are fielding a lot more phone calls from potential clients than they did in 2009. That’s a promising sign.
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.