By Dylan Deprey
There are over 900 Dr. Martin Luther King Drives across the country, and since 1992, Milwaukee has worked to transform the two-mile stretch that bridges downtown and the Northside into the best MLK Jr. Drive in America.
Daphne Malone, Sole proprietor Glorious Malone’s Finest Sausage, has lived near Dr. MLK Drive her entire life. She remembers her mother trying to grow her business in a community that had taken social and economic blows.
“I remember the demise, and I remember that it lingered for a while,”’ Malone said. “Then people started to come back and my mother’s business grew.”
Glorious Malone’s Finest Sausages fought for its spot on Walnut and MLK. Malone said her mother knew that the space would be a space of inspiration for the community, and it has been for the past 50 years.
Over the years, MLK Drive has gradually transformed into a relationship between businesses and its surrounding neighborhoods. On the corner of North and MLK, the ongoing construction of Pete’s Fruit Market is a beacon of hope in a known food desert and a highlight on Historic King Drive.
The Historic King Drive District BID invited elected officials, business owners and neighbors to an almost-opened, Pete’s Fruit Market on Aug. 22 to celebrate Dr. MLK Jr. Drive’s indoctrination as the 34th street in the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s (WEDC) Main Street program, and the first to participate in the National Main Street Center Urban Initiative.
“With this designation, the BID is joining a special group of Wisconsin communities that have demonstrated a commitment to the revitalization of their commercial districts,” said Lisa Mauer, WEDC Board President.
Since its inception in 1987, WEDC teams have worked with cities across the state to create innovative ways to support and grow businesses through its Main Streets initiative. The program has inundated 2,600 new businesses and created over 14,000 new jobs.
“We are the only active Main Street in the City of Milwaukee,” said Deshea Agee, Executive Director, Historic King Drive District BID No. 8.
Agee said resources provided through the initiative included onsite training in marketing, business improvement, volunteer development and historic preservation. There will also be onsite assistance to help strengthen local businesses, design assistance for vacant buildings and vacant land and onsite housing and business owner management.
As the first street to be added to the National Main Street Center Urban Initiative, Historic MLK Drive will also receive assistance in building extensive community engagement and fostering new businesses to create economic opportunity in the community, and create a better quality of life for residents and its visitors.
Agee said it was the partnerships that kept the wheels turning for the new development on King Dr and the Main Streets recognition.
Partners included: US Bank, Safe & Sound, Historic Brewer’s Hill Association, Halyard Park Residence Association, Scale Up Milwaukee, G&G Insurance, Friends of Bronzeville, Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, City of Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission, City of Milwaukee Department of City Development, Historic Milwaukee Inc., 6th District Ald. Milele Coggs.
Mayor Tom Barrett noted the many changes MLK Dr. has taken over the years, and he was confident that the Main Streets Initiative built self-sustaining neighborhood business districts.
“Our main streets in our neighborhoods are not simply thoroughfares. They are not an expressway ramp to the expressway or out of the City, but where people live, shop and have dentist offices, barbershops and soon-to-be medical offices,” Barrett said.
He added that although the street car had mixed opinions, he hoped to find funding to extend it to self-sustainable neighborhood business areas.
“King Drive is going through a renaissance,” said 6th District Alderwoman Milele Coggs.
Coggs has worked on building Historic MLK Drive and noted the changes over the years, including the new Bader Philanthropies Headquarters being renovated on the North end of King drive.
“Some people ask, ‘What’s the secret?’” Coggs said. “It’s not a secret at all, it’s the right recipe.”
Coggs said the ingredients were Agee’s leadership at the Historic King Drive BID, the many partnerships from private, non-profit, small businesses, as well as support from some of the strongest neighborhoods like Brewer’s Hill, Halyard Park and Harambee.
“In this moment, in this time in history, the right ingredients in order to form the perfect recipe,” Coggs said.
Originally, Pete’s Fruit Market was set to be a Dollar Store. State Rep. David Bowen said that just as Glorious Malone’s Finest Sausage had fought for its spot on MLK to create a dream for the neighborhood, the new grocery store was set to do the same.
“You can put up a bunch of Dollar Tree’s around the City, but this corner had a purpose,” Bowen said.