Rallying Around the Airport

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:35 pm

The south side of Milwaukee is a transportation hub for southeastern Wisconsin, boasting General Mitchell International Airport, the Port of Milwaukee, key access to interstate highways and some of the region’s largest trucking companies and warehouses. Several south side business leaders are making plans to use those transportation assets to better market the area for future growth and to ensure the future success of their companies.
A group of business owners and top level managers formed the Airport Gateway Business Association (AGBA) earlier this year to help create a plan to revitalize, promote and beautify the area near the airport. AGBA’s coverage area surrounds the airport, but its members also hope to draw from a broader area.
The association’s area is bounded by Lake Michigan on the east, Milwaukee’s city limit on the south, South 27th Street on the west and the Kinnickinnic River on the north.
Milwaukee Ald. Terry Witkowski, who represents the area, said he saw the city paying a lot of attention to other areas such as the Third Ward, Brewer’s Hill, Capitol Drive and King Drive but not paying much attention to the airport area.
"I said, ‘We’ve got the airport, a lot of highways in this district, and a lot of transportation,’" Witkowski said. "I counted up the hotels, and we’ve got 16, with four more nearby. Other than downtown, you won’t find another group of hotels like this."
After talking with Department of City Development (DCD) staff, Witkowski contacted 50 to 60 businesses, asking them to form a business association to advocate on their behalf. The AGBA is the result of that request.
"Terry brought all of us together," said Jerry Arenas, who owns Porterhouse restaurant at 800 W. Layton Ave with his wife, Marie.
AGBA officially formed in April and recently finalized its main goals: to actively impact government direction; to enhance the community through safety and beautification; to market and develop the south side for economic growth; and to network together for mutually beneficial opportunities.
The physical appearance of the area is a big priority for the group, said John Gardetto, project manager with the General Mills plant at 4625 S. 6th St. and a member of the AGBA board of directors.
"This is the first thing that people see when they come to Milwaukee," he said, because the area has so much of the region’s transportation infrastructure, including the airport, the port and highway access points.
The south side has declined in appearance over recent years, said Jaime Maliszewski, president of Reliable Plating Works Inc., 644 S. 5th St., who also serves as AGBA’s vice president.
If businesses near the airport are going to thrive in the future, Maliszewski and other board members say, they need to work together to improve their lot and advocate to the city.
"This is supposed to be the gateway to our community, but look how depressed it’s getting," Maliszewski said. "There are 400 plus businesses in this area, and it’s the third-highest taxed area in Milwaukee."
DCD staff recently completed work on the Third Ward Comprehensive Area Plan. The agency is now working with AGBA to develop the Southeast Side Plan, which the new study will be called. The plan will specifically focus on land use and economic development issues such as open space, transportation, industrial areas, job creation, destinations and attractions, and commercial revitalization.
The DCD has pledged $75,000 for the plan, about half of the expected cost. Businesses from the affected area, including AGBA’s membership, will need to generate a matching amount.
The group is just starting to test-market the plan to area businesses, said Tom Rave, vice president of Tri City National Bank, 6400 S. 27th St., Oak Creek, who is also a member of AGBA’s board of directors.
The group is planning to hold an ice-breaking event on Jan. 11 at the Porterhouse restaurant to tell potential members about their plans and to get feedback from them. The group may also try to tap members of other business associations that have had success in improving their areas to get ideas for the south side, Rave said.
The city had initially planned to do a study of the airport area last, but moved it up when it learned AGBA had formed, Witkowski said. The proposed study area has been merged with the Bay View neighborhood.
One of the eventual goals of AGBA is to encourage cooperation from businesses in surrounding communities, including Cudahy, St. Francis, Greenfield, Oak Creek and Franklin. Rave said he hopes to tie AGBA’s plans in with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s Milwaukee Regional Identity Team. The purpose of that team is to have all municipalities within a seven-county area promoting the region together as metro Milwaukee, to better market the area for commercial and residential development.
Rave and Maliszewski said the airport corridor is especially important for helping to promote greater Milwaukee because of its placement in prime transportation corridors.
"We’ve got to get people to think beyond (borders)," Rave said. "We’ve got to change the mentality of that. The whole area is Milwaukee."
AGBA will present an opportunity for businesses to improve the collective appearance of the south side, to lower their own taxes and influence public policy, Maliszewski said.
Ultimately, Witkowski said his goal is to attract Chicago area businesses to the area near Milwaukee’s airport, both to gain tax revenue for the city and to provide jobs for residents.
"This is something we can take charge of and take control of our own destiny," Maliszewski said.

The Next Step: To generate more interest and potential members, the Airport Gateway Business Association (AGBA) will conduct a social and information mixer at the Porterhouse Restaurant, 800 W. Layton Ave., from 5-7 p.m. Jan. 11. For more information about the group, call or e-mail Clint Wills, chairman of AGBA’s membership committee, at (414) 482-4444 or sales@holidayinnmke.com.

Small Business Times, December 16, 2005, Milwaukee, WI

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