By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Depending on where you are in Milwaukee, it’s not uncommon to see abandoned buildings. The old Schuster’s Department Store, 2153 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr., is one such building. Earlier this year, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation (GMF) and the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) announced their plan to transform the building.
Kevin Newell of the Royal Capitol Group is the lead developer on the project.
In preparations for the building’s transformation – the new headquarters for GMF and offices for MCW – visioning sessions for neighborhood residents have been held. While located in what is known as Bronzeville, residents from Halyard Park, Brewers Hill and Harambee were all invited to attend the visioning sessions.
The first took place in August at the Sojourner Family Peace Center, the second happened in September at the America’s Black Holocaust Museum and the third occurred last week on Friday, Oct. 11 at On the Bayou, 2053 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr.
The visioning sessions began as a way to keep neighbors informed while also gathering their input.
During October’s meeting, those gathered heard from Ellen Gilligan, the president and CEO of GMF, Greg Wesley, senior executive of MCW, Rocky Marcoux, commissioner for the Department of City Development and Kevin Newell.
Marcoux spoke at length about the City of Milwaukee’s involvement with the redevelopment of the building. He noted that when Bronzeville first began, it saw an influx of development. It grew out of necessity, he said.
Black entrepreneurship was at a high, but the construction of the highway changed things and soon after places such as Walnut Way were irreconcilably different. Now, things are beginning to look up. Walnut Way is once again becoming a place for entrepreneurs as is Bronzeville as a whole.
Marcoux said that to him, North Avenue and National Avenue are good measures on how the city is doing. On either side, there’s been a lot of development, but the middle ground has seen a lot of poverty.
“We need a much more equitable distribution,” Marcoux said.
However, he noted, there’s also been a lot of resilience.
Resilience is how Pete’s Fruit Market, 2323 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr., came to be. It’s also how America’s Black Holocaust Museum, 401 W. North Ave., joined the block. It’s taken a long time and it’s been a struggle, but it has paid off.
Now, the city is setting its sights on helping Newell on redeveloping the building, which is a building Marcoux said needed a project.
“We cannot let go of this vision,” Marcoux said. “[You need to] hold me accountable and [the city needs to] hold you [the residents] accountable in this partnership.”
In addition to the office space, the plan includes housing. Marcoux said that 20 percent of the housing will be allocated for residents already living in 53212 in an effort to avoid gentrification.
He explained that the building is 100 percent taxable and that the taxes Newell makes will be used to get the project done. He further noted that the property tax of residents will not go towards the building.
Newell said there’s been a lot of ideas suggested on what to do with the building and that placeholders for certain ideas have been put in place. There’s a plan to include a center for early childhood education, a potential gym and food market.
“We’ve been listening,” Newell said.
During the visioning session, residents talked about how food, employment, housing, education, health and community engagement play a role in the continued development of both the building and Bronzeville.
The next visioning session will be held in spring of 2020, in the meantime GMF will be holding one-on-one interviews with residents and key stakeholders.