Neighborhood leaders, funders, developers, lenders, corporations and city officials discuss success of Milwaukee’s central City

Symposium reveals new approach needed to meet critical need

Neighborhood leaders, funders, real estate developers, lenders, and city officials gathered last Friday for Milwaukee’s first Community Development Symposium aimed at taking a broader look at central city revitalization in Milwaukee. The symposium was organized by LISC Milwaukee, the local branch of the largest community development group in the country, and hosted by the Marquette University Law School . The Law School has made it part of its mission to provide an opportunity for public dialogue concerning issues of community interest.

According to Leo Ries, Executive Director of LISC Milwaukee, this unique gathering is an opportunity to kick-start a more inclusive and much larger game plan for community development in Milwaukee.

Ries, who has worked on neighborhood development issues for over 35 years, believes, “While many people in our industry are working hard every day to improve Milwaukee ’s central city neighborhoods, we all agree that change is not happening fast enough to keep up with deteriorating economic conditions in our city.”

The symposium featured reports and a cross-sector response panel including Mayor Barrett, Sharon Adams, Gary Grunau, Nelson Soler, Julia Taylor, and Rob Henken facilitated by Marquette ’s Public Policy Fellow Mike Gousha.

Panelist Julia Taylor, president of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, argued, “ Milwaukee ’s Central City neighborhoods are critical to the economic well-being of greater Milwaukee area and region.”

Community and economic development expert and author Paul Brophy released a report titled “Community Development in Milwaukee: An Assessment and Recommendations.” Brophy is senior advisor to Enterprise Community Partners, the Center for Community Progress, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and specializes in older industrial cities and their neighborhoods. Christopher Boston, LISC’s director of Sustainable Communities, shared insights from focus groups with 119 neighborhood practitioners.

Brophy challenged participants to take a broader systemic view, calling for the creation of a shared agenda and shared measurement systems. Boston added that building and valuing relationships and increasing understanding across sectors, neighborhoods, racial and ethnic boundaries is critical to achieving collective impact.

Key themes included the need for a common agenda, shared measurement systems, alignment between funding and broader goals, and increased communication among stakeholders. Current strengths articulated included interested civic and political leaders, strong philanthropic interest and commitment, capable for-profit and nonprofit developers, strong housing stock, and community based leaders willing to work toward agreed upon measures and goals.

The Brophy report was funded by Northwestern Mutual, LISC, Helen Bader Foundation, Greater Milwaukee Foundation, JP Morgan Chase, WHEDA, The City of Milwaukee, M&I Bank, and the Zilber Family Foundation.

About LISC: LISC is the recognized leader in neighborhood development. Since 1980, LISC has marshaled $9 billion from 3,100 investors, lenders and donors to foster the revitalization of more than 300 urban neighborhoods and rural communities. Since 1995, LISC Milwaukee has worked in the central city where LISC helps underwrite and facilitate comprehensive community planning, and supports the implementation of these plans through grants, loans, and technical support. More information is available at or