Time to spread vibrancy beyond downtown


Last updated on May 14th, 2019 at 08:27 am

For years, development has boomed in downtown Milwaukee and nearby neighborhoods like the East Side and Historic Third Ward.

But some areas of the city have remained mired in poverty, seeing little to no new economic development. While the downtown boom has been great, some have complained not enough attention has been paid to improving the city’s lower income neighborhoods.

Recent announcements that Leonardo DRS and Astronautics Corp. of America plan to move operations, and hundreds of jobs, from Milwaukee to the suburbs were significant blows to the central city.

However, there is some good news for the central city. There are finally signs that the downtown development boom is starting to spread north and northwest into low-income areas that have been waiting a long time for new investment and job creation.

Development activity has been picking up along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, with several projects in the works.

Last year Bader Philanthropies moved its headquarters from the Third Ward to a redeveloped facility on King Drive. The move brought the organization closer to the communities it serves, but also brings jobs into the neighborhood and $9.5 million in investment into the property.

A much bigger King Drive project was announced recently. The Medical College of Wisconsin and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation plan to transform the former Schuster’s department store building on King Drive into the new home for MCW’s community engagement programs and the new headquarters for the GMF (currently located at Schlitz Park). MCW and GMF will invest $100 million in the redevelopment project.

It’s great to see nonprofit organizations working to improve Milwaukee and serve those most in need by moving their offices directly into neighborhoods where they want to make an impact. But nonprofits are not the only ones showing new confidence in low-income areas near downtown.

Milwaukee real estate developer Kalan Haywood Sr. wants to transform the former Sears building at West Fond du Lac and West North avenues into a boutique hotel, a $30 million project that would require a city subsidy. Some are skeptical a hotel could succeed at that location. But Haywood hopes the project can help turn the neighborhood around.

“How do we take our craft, and use brick and mortar to push that vibrancy of downtown into other areas?” he asked. “How do you make this the next best destination spot?”

Not far from that spot, Hayat Pharmacy purchased a vacant building at the corner of North 10th Street and West North Avenue and is considering plans to move its headquarters there, which would bring dozens of jobs.

Hopefully, the time has finally come to revitalize these neighborhoods just north and northwest of downtown.

“The message to other businesses that are thinking about moving to the central city – whether it’s a nonprofit like ourselves or a for-profit – is: Don’t be afraid,” said Daniel Bader, president and chief executive officer of Bader Philanthropies. “There is nothing scary about being in the central city…It’s been a great experience for us.”

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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