Milwaukee’s Lincoln Avenue redevelopment on target
by Heather Stur, SBT Reporter
It all began with the purchase, renovation and sale of a residential duplex. In 1989, the Lincoln Neighborhood Redevelopment Corporation embarked on its mission to spur revitalization efforts of an area of Milwaukee’s south side stretching east-west from Lake Michigan to 21st Street and north-south from National Avenue to Oklahoma Avenue, with a main focus on the development of Lincoln Avenue.
Today, almost 10 years and $2 million later, the Lincoln Neighborhood Redevelopment Corp. lends its services – and its funds – to small businesses in its community.
“The businesses we lend to often are ones that might not be able to get a loan from a bank,” says Hilde Dewulf, project manager for the Lincoln Neighborhood Redevelopment Corp. “But that doesn’t mean anyone can come in here and expect to get a loan. If someone needs a loan to start a new business, he or she must show a grasp of what it really means to be an entrepreneur, and that doesn’t come just by going to a seminar on how to start your own business.”
In addition to business loans, the redevelopment group provides neighborhood businesses with technical assistance, especially in accounting, the area Dewulf says small and start-up businesses seem to need the most help in.
A restaurateur on Lincoln Avenue spent several years in business paying his employees and his bills in cash straight out of his restaurant cash register. The redevelopment corporation not only taught the restaurateur accounting and bookkeeping skills, it also bought the building that housed his restaurant and rented it to him until he could buy it back.
This year, the Lincoln Neighborhood Redevelopment Corp. received from the City of Milwaukee a $10,000 Community Block Grant to finance accountant services at the redevelopment corporation. The grant was renewed for an additional $10,000 for 1999. Thanks to the grant, businesses that receive loans from the Lincoln Neighborhood Redevelopment Corp. can get free accounting services for three months, including training to use the QuickBooks accounting program, and then pay $125 each month after that for continued accounting and tax-return servicing.
Although currently it owns no property, the redevelopment corporation has involved itself in renovation projects in the area. And through a partnership with Bay View High School from 1993 to 1997, students in a Bay View High construction class rehabilitated seven structures purchased by the Lincoln Neighborhood Redevelopment Corp. with the help of $60,000 in grants from the city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County, and $100,000 in donations from various sources.
“We don’t want to own any property; we just want to fix up buildings so that private organizations will buy them,” says Michael Gapinski, executive director of the redevelopment corporation. “We want to get more people involved in the responsibility of redeveloping the area.”
The organization also participated in a project, known as “Basilica Square,” to enhance the physical quality of the street scene on Lincoln Avenue. The city approved a $750,000 capital improvement project, and Wisconsin Electric Power Co. invested more than $250,000 to bury overhead wiring around the Basilica of St. Josephat, while Landmark Lighting installed a system to illuminate the basilica at night. Harp lighting, newly planted greenery and a park were added to complete the project.
Initial project: renovation
In 1989, Merchants & Manufacturers Bancorporation was chartered and founded a community development corporation, the Lincoln Neighborhood Redevelopment Corp., led by Lincoln State Bank, which sought to comply with the Community Reinvestment Act via a community development corporation. Its initial action involved the renovation of a neighborhood duplex, but the holding company soon realized more was needed to help the area thrive. Thus, the Lincoln Fund was established.
In the same year that Merchants & Manufacturers Bancorporation was formed, Wisconsin Community Capital Corp. (WCC) approached Lincoln State Bank with a plan to create a pool of funds to be used for urban economic revitalization.
That plan evolved into the Lincoln Fund, a revolving loan fund of $550,000 for use by new or existing businesses located on Lincoln Avenue. Lincoln State Bank, Franklin State Bank and Lincoln Community Bank each contribute $150,000, along with WCC’s $100,000 contribution. In 1994, Warner Cable Communications, Inc., contributed $35,000 to the fund with the instructions that the money be used to start woman- and minority-owned businesses, and in 1996 M&I Marshall and Ilsley Bank joined the board of the community development corporation with a $150,000 contribution to the Lincoln Fund. To date, 60 loans – each ranging from $5,000 to $150,000 – have been given out for a total of $2 million loaned to businesses on and near Lincoln Avenue.
Lincoln State Bank was founded in 1919 as a community bank to serve the local, widely Polish community that was underserved by downtown Milwaukee’s banks at the time, says Dewulf. The demographics of this south side neighborhood have changed over time – a largely Hispanic population has taken residence in the area – but the Lincoln Neighborhood Redevelopment Corp. functions much to the same end that Lincoln State Bank did almost 80 years ago.
When Jose Lopez decided two years ago to expand his National Avenue bakery by opening a second establishment at 1601 W. Lincoln Ave., the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce referred him to the Lincoln Neighborhood Redevelopment Corp., which aided him in all aspects of business expansion – from approving him for a loan to helping him get the proper licensing to set up a business in his chosen location.
“I saw a need in the neighborhood for the kind of product I offer,” says Lopez. “People in the neighborhood were tired of second-hand bakery and second-hand service. I have what they want. Also, the building on Lincoln Avenue was right for my business and was in a good location. I went to (the Lincoln Neighborhood Redevelopment Corp.) for financial assistance, and they helped me throughout the entire process.”
And the expansion of Lopez’s bakery isn’t stopping with the Lincoln Avenue store. In about two months, he plans to open a coffee shop and bakery at a third location at Mitchell and 11th Streets.
El Toro Bravo, a specialty meat market and deli located at 1518 W. Lincoln Ave., is scheduled to open in February or March due to the help of the Lincoln Neighborhood Redevelopment Corp., according to owner Raymundo Vazquez.
“[The Lincoln Neighborhood Redevelopment Corp.] has been holding my hand through the whole process of getting the business set up,” says Vazquez, whose family runs a similar business in Guadalajara, Mexico. “Lincoln Avenue was the right place for me to open the business.”
A model organization
In addition to continuing to act as a lending organization for businesses in the Lincoln Avenue area, the organization hopes other community development corporations will model themselves after the Lincoln Avenue one, says Dewulf. Such already is happening in the Midtown neighborhood around 27th and Galena Streets. According to Dewulf, M&I Marshall and Ilsley, Park and TCF banks put together a loan consortium to duplicate the Lincoln Fund in the Midtown neighborhood.
“Banks in other neighborhoods can look at Lincoln Avenue and see that neighborhoods that might have been neglected have great potential,” says Gapinski. “There are good businesses out there, and we’re hoping that more banks get involved to give these businesses a chance to revitalize the neighborhoods they’re in.”
Turn the beat around – Lincoln Avenue
Milwaukee’s Lincoln Avenue redevelopment on target