By Graham Kilmer
Spirits were high at a chilly groundbreaking ceremony hosted by Walnut Way Conservation Corporation, a local Milwaukee nonprofit organization, on Thursday January, 22.
The groundbreaking ceremony was for a commercial development project called The Innovation and Wellness Commons to be located at the corner of North Ave. and 16th St. Mayor Tom Barrett and Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch were in attendance and spoke at the ceremony.
The Commons is a $6 million development project aimed at the economic, social, and environmental revitalization of the North Ave. commercial corridor from 12th St. to Fond du lac Ave., as well as the surrounding community.
The community around the site for the Commons is home to 2,700 families, fifty-three percent of whom live below the poverty line.
The neighborhood is also ninety-nine percent black and Latino.
“When businesses and social assets closed so did opportunities, and jobs; and the social fabric of this community unraveled.” said Sharon Adams, the Director of Programs for Walnut Way, who grew up a block away from the Commons on 17th St.
According to market research performed by Walnut Way, the community in which the Commons will be located loses $10 million dollars of revenue every year because there is nowhere to spend that money within the community.
According to Walnut Way, more than half of the current commercial properties on this corridor are vacant.
“Our commercial corridors became isolated, devalued, and forgotten,” said Adams, “However, the odds are changing again.”
The first phase of the project is the restoration of a vintage building which will house the Milwaukee Center for Independence, The Milwaukee Community Business Collaborative, Inc., and an Outpost Natural Foods.
This first phase is expected create twenty jobs in the local community.
“The vintage building was a social club and restaurant operated by four black men on a handshake for forty years.” Said Adams.
The second phase of the development is the construction of a building on an empty lot for a grocery store, and family health and Wellness services. Adams says that this lot has been vacant for over thirty years.
The commons is expected to employ forty-eight people initially with room for future growth.
At the ceremony Mayor Tom Barrett spoke to the shivering, yet spirited crowd about the importance of the commons in the local community and Milwaukee as a whole.
He applauded Adams and her husband Larry Adams, Director of Environmental Stewardship at Walnut Way, for the profound impact they have had on the neighborhood.
“She’s fighting back,” said Mayor Barrett, “And were all fighting back in this neighborhood, because we know that there’s too much poverty, we know there’s not enough healthy food, we know there’s not enough healthy people.”
Mayor Barrett spoke about the need for investment in the Milwaukee city neighborhoods.
“Just as you see these tremendous healthcare clinics in the suburbs surrounding Milwaukee; we need investments like that right here in the heart of the city of Milwaukee.”
Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch echoed the importance, and celebration of revitalization projects shared by many of the speakers.
Kleefisch was there ceremonially announcing a development grant of $415,750 for the Commons on behalf of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.
Only seven out of thirty-two applicants received grants.
Kleefisch noted that this was not only the largest attended grant announcement she had performed, but also the coldest.