A dozen businesses have committed as tenants in a Sherman Park neighborhood redevelopment project aimed at transforming a fire-damaged BMO Harris Bank branch into an hub for entrepreneurs of color.
The effort, called the Sherman Phoenix project, is spearheaded by Juli Kaufmann, president of Milwaukee-based Fix Development LLC, and JoAnne Johnson-Sabir, co-owner of The Juice Kitchen. They plan to redevelop the former bank at 3536 W. Fond du Lac Ave., a longtime fixture in the neighborhood that was burned during unrest in the neighborhood last year.
Initial project plans were first unveiled in May when ground was broken on BMO Harris Bank’s new Sherman Park location at 3637 W. Fond du Lac Ave.
The renovated building will house locally-owned businesses and include a food hall with seating, an outdoor patio and gathering spaces for small community events.
Tenants include 12 black-owned businesses: The Juice Kitchen, Funky Fresh Spring Rolls, Embody Yoga, Sabir’s Karate Center, Hello Beautiful, RSVP Confections, Queens Closet Consignment Shop, #DreamsNeverExpire!, Sister Locs, Rees Barbershop, Studio 69 and Buffalo Boss. The project is expected to create 45 jobs.
“There’s brilliance here. There’s talent here,” Sabir said. “We are helping to ensure that the talent, the brilliance and innovation of people of color is lifted. The coming together – that collective action — that’s where the magic happens.”
Mayor Tom Barrett and Alderman Khalif Rainey will hold a press conference today to announce the city’s proposed support for the project, including a grant from a new tax incremental district of $225,000, and an additional $100,000 in grants and loans for improvements related to the project.
Currently, half of the project costs have been secured by local philanthropists, investors and foundations. The project is also designed to give neighborhood residents the opportunity to invest in the project and become owners.
Organizers say the civil unrest in Sherman Park last year highlighted the need for more pathways to economic opportunity.
“Innovation is critically needed,” Sabir said. “Residents have experienced many, many years of disinvestment. There is a shared desire to become a part of the economy, to be able to have vibrant spaces that reflect the diversity of the community.”
The business hub is expected to open in the spring of 2018.