Walnut Way Conservation Corp. completes phase 2 of Innovations and Wellness Commons development

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Walnut Way Conservation Corp. leaders and supporters this week marked the completion of the second phase of the $3.3 million Innovations and Wellness Commons development in Milwaukee’s Lindsay Heights neighborhood.

The Commons project is a 17,200-square-foot commercial mixed-use development at North 16th Street and West North Avenue that houses various health and wellness services and retail tenants.

The project’s first phase, which was completed in 2015, included the 6,500-square-foot renovation of an existing historic building at 1615-1617 W. North Ave. and a 4,500-square-foot new addition. The building houses MCFI (Milwaukee Center for Independence), Fondy Food Center, and Walnut Way’s new social enterprise, Designaway apparel printing and maker’s space.

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The second phase involved the new construction of a 5,470-square-foot building on an adjacent parking lot, which includes street-level commercial space, second-floor offices and a 2,000-square-foot rooftop terrace and convening space that overlooks West North Avenue. Tenants of the second-phase building include the Milwaukee Area Health Education Centers, United Neighborhood Centers of Milwaukee, the Benedict Center Sister’s Program, Perseverance Health and Wellness by Bridgett Wilder, Living Well by Marrika Rogers, and the Milwaukee School of Engineering Scholar’s Program.

The Commons also includes solar panel and battery storage and a number of energy efficient and stormwater management features, installed by Walnut Way’s social enterprise, Blue Skies Landscaping.

The goal of the project is to provide culturally relevant wellness and health services for residents, accelerate entrepreneurs in those sectors and create more pathways for employment, said Walnut Way executive director Antonio Butts, the developer of the project’s second phase.

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The project was inspired by a lack of investment and economic mobility for several decades in the Lindsay Heights neighborhood, Butts said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday.

“It’s important that people know that we can build and solve things from within the neighborhood,” Butts said. “So, the core of this is really about resident power and equity and resident capacity. And everyone should know that this development was completely driven by residents, people who live in this neighborhood.”

Blue Skies Landscaping’s new home will be located at 1405 W. Fond du Lac Ave.

With the Commons project now complete, Butts announced Wednesday the nonprofit neighborhood organization is turning its attention to a new endeavor – a multi-parcel new construction and renovation project to build a permanent home for Blue Skies Landscaping. Planned for the property at 1405 W. Fond du Lac Ave., the facility is envisioned as a demonstration and training site for green infrastructure and sustainable urban landscaping, in addition to offices and equipment storage.

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Site acquisition is underway and Walnut Way is developing a site plan in partnership with its architects. Funds from the Brico Fund will be used for the first phase of the project, which is to develop several vacant parcels into a working space and demonstration site for green infrastructure. 

Blue Skies Landscaping, which was founded in 2012, has focused on environmental stewardship in the Lindsay Heights neighborhood, developing multiple pocket parks on city-owned properties, installing green infrastructure throughout the area and removing pavement and impermeable surfaces to accommodate green spaces.  

“Our goal is to create a home for Blue Skies Landscaping that continues our efforts to transform the Lindsay Heights neighborhood into a model for green infrastructure and climate resilience,” Butts said. 

Butts also announced that the organization recently completed its capital campaign for the Innovations and Wellness Commons project with a $350,000 donation from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation Anonymous Fund, making the project debt-free.

Other project partners include Mayer-Helminiak, LLC, architect; Michael Emem, owners representative; JCP Construction, construction management; and Reinhart Boerner & Van Deuren, legal services. Financing was provided through a mix of philanthropic gifts and nonprofit financing through IFF.

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