Near West Side Partners
THE MISSION IS CLEAR — Revitalize and sustain Milwaukee’s Near West Side as a thriving business and residential corridor. SO ARE THE STRATEGIES — Collaborative efforts to promote economic development, improved housing, unified neighborhood identity and branding, and greater safety for residents and businesses.
By Joni Moths Mueller
A bullet pierced a window and landed in a conference room at Harley-Davidson’s Milwaukee headquarters where, ironically, a group was gathering to interview a candidate for a crisis communication position. This news reached Marquette, and, together, President Michael Lovell and Harley-Davidson’s then-president and CEO Keith Wandell chose to retool the near crisis into a pincer movement.
Lovell and Wandell cohosted a meeting of 18 corporate leaders in October 2014 to take a hard look at what was happening in seven nearby Milwaukee neighborhoods and how it was affecting the lives of people who want to live happily, raise growing families, run thriving businesses, work or study in an area suffering from an influx of crime.
Out of that initial conclave emerged a powerful idea. Five anchor corporations that have thrived in the neighborhoods for cumulatively hundreds of years united to create a new entity called the Near West Side Partners Inc., a collaborative model of community redevelopment.
The partners committed funds, personnel and vision to give this pact power. They decided to work on safety, certainly, but also on other issues repressing quality of life. “You can’t create economic development with only more law enforcement,” says Marquette Vice President for Public Affairs Rana Altenburg, Arts ’88, and president of the NWSP Board. “The assets of this area are many and rich and the business leaders saw this as a great opportunity. We’ve been in the same neighborhoods for more than 100 years and never worked together like this before.”
Altenburg is especially enthused by the sweeping involvement of students, alumni, faculty and staff. “When we introduce ourselves at meetings, people say, ‘Hey, I’m a Marquette alum or I’m a Marquette student.’ It’s unprecedented; our little Marquette is making such a big difference,” says Altenburg.
Heard of PARC? You will.
PARC, which stands for Promoting Assets and Reducing Crime, is a three-year $1.5 million initiative to revitalize and sustain the Near West Side as a thriving residential and business corridor.
These neighborhoods are home to nearly 40,000 residents, including 10,000 Marquette students. More than 25,000 people work at its 450 businesses. More social service agencies are located within the 380-block grid than anywhere else in the state. Resident income ranges from $13,000 to $90,000.
“But there is a perception that people have no money and crime is high,” says Patrick Kennelly, Grad ’12, director of Marquette’s Center for Peacemaking. “Is there really a safety issue or is there a perception issue?” he asks.
PARC is employing two innovative tools to answer Kennelly’s question. The first is dig-deep research. Dr. Amber Wichowsky, assistant professor of political science and director of the Marquette Democracy Lab, is leading faculty, students and local stakeholders in conducting social science research to assess the civic engagement of the people who live in these communities with an end goal of improving neighborhood well-being. Student Shivani Chokshi, a junior majoring in peace studies, distributed surveys during a day-long fair last August that asked residents questions about safety concerns, desired neighborhood improvements and quality of life issues, such as, “If you saw kids cutting class, would you report it?”
People took the job seriously, Chokshi says: “They spoke about wanting to see differences in their neighborhoods and wanting to have a voice” in the process. Compiling all of the data will help identify the improvements that carry weight with residents.
Another of PARC’s tools is a full-on investment in safety and security. The Near West Side Partners worked with the Milwaukee District Attorney’s Office to hire a community prosecutor who is dedicated to the area. The prosecutor works full time out of an office embedded in a neighborhood storefront called a “way point.” The close proximity to residents helps build a new level of communication. When neighbors have concerns or sense a crime trend, they have a resource now who can react quickly — to prosecute violent offenders, close down hot spots for criminal activity and help nonviolent offenders find the resources they need before committing another crime.
Milwaukee has earned a spot on the justice map for this concept. The community prosecution program was initiated in 2000 by the Milwaukee District Attorney’s Office, with funding from the Department of Justice. Under District Attorney John Chisholm, Arts ’86, it has grown to become a national model, according to Jeff Altenburg, Arts ’86, deputy district attorney for Milwaukee County.
The Near West Side Partners saw how well the model worked to reduce crime in a neighborhood further north in the city and, according to Altenburg, sought a similar strategy. “We made the argument that if you want to make a significant difference in a short period of time, you really want to have a full-time prosecutor and assistance from Safe & Sound working in your neighborhood. It made a lot of sense to them,” Altenburg says.
PARC funded the position. Though it is too early to tell if the system is working, Altenburg can point to already apparent outcomes: Hot spots for crime are being identified; problem housing is being addressed; and communication between police and prosecutors is happening more quickly. “A project like this helps make the case that this is the way we want to do business in Milwaukee and, frankly, it is a key and essential element of government service. This opportunity is a game changer,” he says.
Whirlwind of a year
When the Near West Side Partners gathered for a meeting at Marquette Law School in November, Keith Stanley remarked: “I can’t believe it’s been a year; well, yes I can.”
Even for the young, energetic and passionate executive director of Near West Side Partners Inc., it was a whirlwind year. A community prosecutor was embedded in a “way point” office and the Milwaukee Police Department reported on 570 interventions to stop criminal activity in a year; asset mapping began to identify the resources most valued by residents; the new Marquette Police Department succeeded in reducing crime in the neighborhood surrounding campus by 50 percent in its first eight months of operation; and conversations about finding a grocery partner for the Near West Side were so extensive that Marquette President Michael Lovell admitted to having learned more about the grocery business than he cared to know.
Stanley, a member of Marquette’s first ACRE (Associates in Commercial Real Estate Program) graduating class, brings excitement for Milwaukee’s commercial real estate market to reigniting the Near West Side. “There are always people who say ‘Let’s try.’ I’m one of those people who says ‘Let’s do.’”
For a cheerleader, the partners couldn’t have chosen better. Stanley draws a map of the seven neighborhoods on his desktop and points to some highlights. “I can go to Piggsville and enjoy lunch at the Valley Inn. I can go to Ruby G’s for coffee in Avenues West.” Then there is The Pabst Mansion, the Rave, the Queen Anne Victorian homes. “If we had a billion dollars, we couldn’t recreate them,” Stanley says of the architecture lining many of these neighborhood blocks.
Commercial corridor development is his top priority. “We’re promoting the fact that 40,000 people travel through the 27th Street intersection daily, including 15,000 weekly bus riders. “These are numbers retailers look for,” he says. “How do we take advantage of the fact that we are near the largest tourist attraction in the state, Forest County Potawatomi Hotel and Casino, and that six million people come through their doors each year?”
But the neighborhoods also have a heavy concentration of rental units and few options when it comes to markets, coffee shops, dine-in restaurants — the accommodations that Stanley says “people need to have productive lives.” So, no resting on a year of laurels. Stanley is focused on the year ahead and what’s possible. He has a list of anticipated collaborations: adding green space at eight locations, a shark tank-like business plan competition to create new business on the Near West Side, a “Walk to Work” housing program, a design charette engaging students at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, the Department of City Development and NWSP in reimagining six locations that would be catalytic for development along 27th Street, and a grocery store — one with a long produce aisle.
Read more at nearwestsidemke.org.
Bringing life back
Some graduates never truly leave. Take Rick Wiegand, Bus Ad ’81, whose nose for investing in Milwaukee real estate earns gasps ranging from “really?” to “who knew?”
He loves flipping doubters but not as much as he loves uncovering opportunities. Take for instance his transformation of the Ambassador Hotel at North 24th Street and Wisconsin Avenue. The art deco landmark had deteriorated beyond recognition to all but Wiegand, who saw beneath the blight of neglect and invested $14 million in its turnaround. Wiegand Enterprises’ latest purchase is the three-building City Campus on the corner of North 27th and Wells streets. The trio — a two-floor structure with a theatre, a five-story built in the early 1900s as Doctors Hospital and the nine-floor addition that was Family Hospital. The county placed the buildings up for auction with the offer to financially support demolition of the nine-floor building. Then Wiegand took a tour. “I walked through the buildings, not even thinking that I’d be interested,” he says. “Then I suddenly thought, ‘This is going to be fun.’”
The location is pivotal to the Near West Side’s rehabilitation, with the buildings perched at a major focal point for commercial corridor development. Where others saw a demolition opportunity, Wiegand spotted something retrievable. He is gutting the building but leaving the structure intact to, he says, “bring life back to that corner of the neighborhood.”
These investments are only a sample of Wiegand’s weighty impact on the Near West Side. “Rick Wiegand is a true believer, and he believes in the potential of this community,” says Rana Altenburg, Arts ’88, Marquette’s vice president for public affairs and president of the NWSP Board.
Working by instinct
Ghassan Korban, Eng ’84, boarded a plane in Beirut, Lebanon, and a dozen hours later grabbed a taxi for the short ride from Mitchell International Airport to Mashuda Hall. It was the 20-year-old’s first visit to this country — and Marquette. Talk about taking a leap of faith.
Today Korban calls Lebanon his birthplace and Milwaukee his home and, with enthusiasm equal to a Marquette admissions tour guide, ticks off projects that have transformed the corners and corridors of Milwaukee during his 28 years logged working in the Department of Public Works. There are favorites, of course: the Sixth Street viaduct bridge, Canal Street and what it did to the Menomonee Valley, the Beerline project, Erie Street Plaza, the Wisconsin Avenue beautification project through Marquette’s campus, the Third Ward and many more.
As a member of the Near West Side Partners Board, Korban’s instincts have helped notch some quick wins. The Cold Spring Park Residents Association campaigned for a couple years to transform a vacant lot into a community garden. Progress came when NWSP pulled Korban into the conversation and asked: “How can we get this done?”
Almost instantly, Korban had an answer. The Cold Spring Park project aligned perfectly with Mayor Tom Barrett’s Strong Neighborhoods Program. That success set a high bar. NWSP has a list of green projects for Korban — and the city — to consider that range from small neighborhood beautification projects to a major one, reconstruction of Wisconsin Avenue, starting from the edge of Marquette’s campus to North 35th Street.
Korban says the partners are driven by a desire to do good things. “They all love Milwaukee. They all love the Near West Side. It’s very contagious,” he says. “You can’t sit in a room with them and not want to do things. They are relentless in a very good way.”
Marquette asked students, alumni, faculty and staff to contribute their thoughts to initiatives identified as crucial in the Near West Side Partners’ strategy. Think safety, housing, commercial corridor development, and neighborhood identity and branding. They did — and Marquette people or programs are now critically involved in each initiative in ways that leverage the assets of a Jesuit university. Here are some examples.
Klingler College of Arts and Sciences wins a three-year $354,000 Career Ready Internship grant from the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corp. The grant will fund 170 paid and for-credit internships for students with financial need, especially those in the Educational Opportunity Program, with an emphasis on companies on the Near West Side.
Psychology professor Dr. Ed de St. Aubin, graduate students Lauren Yadlosky and Travis McCuddy, along with 35 undergraduates rehab a house that will serve as transitional housing for men and women coming out of prison.
Kids need healthy teeth
School of Dentistry delivers free dental exams and screenings for kids in Milwaukee Public Schools Head Start program. The children receive a cleaning, fluoride treatment, complimentary toothbrush and a lesson in oral health.
College of Nursing provides health and wellness services at Sojourner House of Peace, a safe haven for Milwaukee victims of domestic violence.
Vets’ good health
Student Veterans Association hosts the third annual mental health summit, “Leave No Woman Behind,” to bring community stakeholders together to address mental health care needs of women vets and their families.
Opus College of Engineering academies offer Milwaukee’s K–12 students a wide variety of challenging programs and courses that teach critical-thinking and STEM skills, and explore the engineering design process.
Boost for business
Marquette Boost Program helps social ventures in southeastern Wisconsin make a greater impact through honing their business skills and strategic thinking. In 2015 the program worked with 11 organizations and will work with a new cohort each year.
College of Education collaboration with Penfield Children’s Center on the Behavior Health Clinic for children with developmental disabilities who are experiencing significant behavior and emotional problems.
In their own words
Why five corporations united to found and support the Near West Side Partners Inc.
I can tell you, whether it’s faculty, staff or students — everyone is excited about this initiative, how they can get involved, how they can make a difference. I’m very proud of this initiative. I think it’s the most important initiative I’ve been involved in in my career.
Dr. Michael R. Lovell
President, Marquette University
This is the birth place of Harley-Davidson. People come and get married on our doorstep. When you think of what that facility means to our passionate riders globally, it is an incredible asset for us to be where we are.
We are celebrating 160 years this fall, which is a momentous achievement. When we look back at the history, Fred Miller had a huge role in developing this community. We have so many people committed to Milwaukee, to the neighborhood — there was no debate about stepping up and making sure that we do something to improve the neighborhood.
Chief Legal and Corporate Services
Aurora Health Care
Caring for a neighborhood is a direct extension of caring for people, which is what we do every day. We’ve rolled up our sleeves along with the other anchor institutions and the people and business leaders of the neighborhood, and we’re seeing real success. That’s something we can all be proud of.
Nick Turkal, M.D.
President and CEO, Aurora Health Care
Potawatomi Business Development Corporation
I want this to be the best neighborhood in the city of Milwaukee. Take McKinley Street, take State Street, take Wells Street, take the beautiful historic homes — they’re gorgeous. Five, 10 or 15 years from now we’ll all wish we had invested in this neighborhood.
CEO, Potawatomi Business Development Corporation
A Neighborhood of Neighborhoods
The Near West Side, as defined by the city of Milwaukee, is bound by I-43 (east), Highway 41 (west), Vliet Street and Highland Boulevard (north) and I-94 (south). It comprises these neighborhoods:
- Avenues West
- Cold Spring Park
- Martin Drive
- Merrill Park
- Miller Valley
- The Valley—Piggsville
Some Treasures on the Near West Side
Church of the Gesu
Visitors and parishioners enjoy stunning stained glass windows that were made in Munich, Germany, as well as a Pietà statue and the tremendous pipe organ.
Five O’Clock Steak House
It opened in 1946 and still holds the title as one of Milwaukee’s most memorable steak houses.
The German-influenced brewing giant helped put Milwaukee on the map as a beer bastion. A visit to the iconic home of MillerCoors may even lead to a ghostly encounter; it’s been said that founder Frederick Miller and two lovers who met at Miller Valley haunt the caves where kegs are stored.
Historic Eagles Club / The Rave
From a venue for big band music and theatre to an athletic club with a swimming pool and bowling alley, the historic Eagles Club has championed entertainment since opening in 1927. Today this remarkable building is a live music hot spot for Milwaukeeans — and Marquette students.
Mashuda Hall’s unusually beautiful neighbor is a reminder of the Near West Side’s illustrious past and America’s Guilded Age. The mansion, completed in 1892, was home to Capt. Frederick Pabst and his family. Today it is an award-winning house museum.
Tripoli Shrine Center
Milwaukee’s replica of the Taj Mahal in India was built in 1928. It is the headquarters for Milwaukee Shriners International and features a breathtaking grand foyer where hand-placed mosaic tiles grace the domed ceiling.