About five years ago, the 3500 block of West National Avenue on Milwaukee’s south side was identified as a place that had the potential to be a commercial destination for residents and visitors alike.
That vision is coming alive, thanks to the effort of local developers, business owners and the nonprofit group Layton Boulevard West Neighbors.
Five buildings were identified for redevelopment along this commercial corridor as part of a LBWN and Clarke Square design charrette, which was crafted back in 2014. Those planning efforts brought together area residents with professional planners and designers, who created designs based on the neighbors’ desired uses and amenities.
In the time since, two of those buildings have been redeveloped while another two have been acquired by local developers who have plans for them.
“The sentiment was this has always been a main street for the south side of Milwaukee, it still makes sense for it to be that way, and that we value our historic buildings … and just wanted to repurpose it more for 21st century uses,” said Celia Benton, economic development director of LBWN.
Ryan Pattee, president of Milwaukee-based Pattee Group LLC, has purchased the former bar at 3528-30 W. National Ave., with plans to redevelop the commercial ground floor and residential space on the upper level.
Maria Monge, who owns the food truck Cielito Salvadoreño, will open the restaurant Pupuseria la Chalateca there. Monge said she has for years sought a brick-and-mortar location and specifically wanted to locate in this neighborhood. The additional space will allow Monge to offer more food and beverage options, she said.
Pattee said project financing will come from a variety of sources. Monge is applying for a white box grant and may also receive financing through the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp. Other financing sources include a bank loan and owner and tenant equity.
Acquisition and renovation costs together are around $270,000, Pattee said.
Meanwhile, Alex Anderson, a real estate investor and a sales executive with Powers Realty Group Inc., owns the building at 3516-20 W. National Ave. He said the redeveloped building will have two first-floor storefronts and two Airbnb units upstairs.
Anderson said he is applying for a white box grant with the city to help finance renovations to the commercial space. Renovations to the storefront space are likely to start this fall and be completed by the end of the year. Acquisition and renovation costs will total around $275,000 altogether, he said.
The developers have agreed to renovate the buildings and select businesses to locate there under the direction of LBWN.
“Their (LBWN’s) enthusiasm and kind of how deeply they’re ingrained in the neighborhood and what their vision for the neighborhood is, I agree with that, and that’s the kind of stuff I want to be involved in,” Pattee said.
Benton said the organization hears a lot of requests from neighborhood residents for more family-friendly storefronts that are open later than 5 p.m.
“There’s tremendous buying power in the neighborhood from residents, and a lot of the needs for these families are not being met yet in the community, so it’s a loss of income in the neighborhood,” she said.
LBWN assists with development efforts in a number of ways, including bus tours of commercial properties and offering grants to business owners making commercial property improvements. LBWN also acquires buildings when it can.
LBWN redeveloped the building it owns at 3514 W. National Ave., which consists of the Orenda Café on the first floor and apartments upstairs. The restaurant opened in May. Orenda is owner Leticia Munoz’s second restaurant, with the other being Michael’s Family Restaurant at 2220 W. Wisconsin Ave.
“I wanted a new concept, something new, and it caught my attention that the building was going to be renovated and I could make the space the way I want it,” she said. “And it looks beautiful.”
Another building that has been redeveloped along the block is at 3524 W. National Ave., where 5Wise Workshop coworking space and workshop venue is located.
Anderson said he has an option to purchase the final building at 3522 W. National Ave., though he’s still negotiating on a purchase price with the owner. The building is now used for apartments.