Last updated on April 30th, 2022 at 04:39 pm
Walnut Way Conservation Corp. is converting a collection of four properties along West Fond du Lac Avenue in Milwaukee into the new headquarters for the organization’s workforce development arm, Blue Skies Landscaping.
Leaders of the neighborhood nonprofit organization celebrated the social enterprise’s new home, located at 1414 W. Fond du Lac Ave. in the city’s Lindsay Heights neighborhood, with a flag-raising ceremony Tuesday.
Blue Skies Landscaping, which was founded in 2012, provides landscape services, environmental and green infrastructure services in greater Milwaukee. Over the years, the organization has developed multiple pocket parks on city-owned properties, installed green infrastructure throughout the area and removed pavement and impermeable surfaces to accommodate green spaces.
It also provides job training and employment for individuals who have traditionally faced employment barriers and are seeking to build skills in the growing trade. It currently employs 16 people.
The organization has grown by about 20% annually over the past 8 years, which has created the need for more equipment storage, training facilities, offices and a demonstration site for green infrastructure and clean energy, leaders said.
“This is a big deal for us because it allows us to scale, to continue to grow the operation and it allows us to grow our training opportunities, and more gainful employment for the neighborhood,” said Antonio Butts, executive director of Walnut Way.
Walnut Way announced in December it would acquire the four parcels – a two-story 3,000-square-foot garage, a residential-style garage, a former cobbler shop, and a city-owned vacant lot – to develop Blue Skies’ permanent home. The buildings were previously owned by Atlas Heating & Sheet Metal executives Ed and Mike Eschenburg. The sale of those properties closed in January, and Walnut Way is in the process of acquiring the city-owned parcel, Butts said.
The program moved into its new headquarters on April 1. Previously, Blue Skies stored its equipment at various garages throughout the neighborhood.
Walnut Way is seeking to raise $500,000 for the headquarters project.
Walnut Way was founded as a nonprofit neighborhood organization in 2000 by Lindsay Heights residents with the goal of reclaiming and redeveloping the economic health and vitality of the community.
Late last year, the organization completed the second phase of the $3.3 million Innovations and Wellness Commons, 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 development includes solar panel and battery storage and a number of energy efficient and stormwater management features, installed by Blue Skies.