Driving Economic (re)Development

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We’re nearing the end of our comprehensive and downtown planning process.

Now it’s time to begin. And we are.

After reading the document online, or learning about it more in person at City Hall or at the April 21 information meeting, I hope you agree that this document provides a bold, yet attainable, vision for South Milwaukee’s redevelopment and revitalization, starting in our city center.

Still, its remains words on a page. For now.

This plan can’t sit on a shelf and collect dust – it’s too important for the future of our city. We must work the plan, bringing it to life with initiatives big and small. Put another way, a plan is only as good as the will to bring it to life.

I have that will, and know many, many others do too.

That’s why we’re already working to make our plans a reality.

Last week, the South Milwaukee Common Council unanimously passed two key initiatives that show we’re serious about implementing this plan — serious about redeveloping this city.

  • Economic development infrastructure. The council voted to merge the Community Development Authority and Plan Commission, as well as form a Housing Authority. This will unify our economic development committee infrastructure and help us act more decisively in bringing key parts of the comprehensive and downtown plans to life. What led to this? When the CDA was formed more than a decade ago to oversee our tax incremental financing districts and Parkcrest housing development, it was given little actual power, as is the case in some other communities. Instead, the CDA was primarily an advisory body to the city council — at times advising on the same projects and issues the Plan Commission is. We are removing this duplication and streamlining our redevelopment efforts, no matter if the project is on TIF property not. My focus as mayor is to lead the charge in making our plans reality. The newly constituted Plan Commission will help us do that.
  • Downtown streetscaping. The council also approved a contract with Graef for development of Milwaukee Avenue streetscaping concepts, starting us on the road toward delivery of a key recommendation of the plan. After sharing the concepts with the appropriate committees (Downtown Advisory, Beautification, etc.) and gaining approval from the council, the goal is to begin some work later this summer/fall, continuing into 2017. It will be phased, recognizing that while the $250,000 in capital money already earmarked for Milwaukee Avenue streetscaping work will accomplish a lot – and demonstrate an early win and a commitment to downtown revitalization by the city – additional funds will be necessary to complete the vision. (Our Beautification Committee is already hard at work with streetscaping plans for this summer, and I’m excited to see what they deliver.)

And that’s just the start. Several other significant initiatives under consideration will also help bring these plans to life in these early days …

  • Downtown revitalization grant. A plan to provide an enhanced grant program for new and existing businesses was first discussed in late 2015, and it’s gaining momentum. The program would replace the existing façade grant, putting more funds in play for more types of projects — up to $30,000 in matching funds, as proposed — but focused in our city center. We took early feedback from the council, Plan Commission, Downtown Advisory Committee and worked with Graef to develop a revised program to share with the council. That work is now complete, and the DAC and Plan Commission have recommended approval of the initiative. I expect the council will consider the revised plan at its May 3 meeting, along with the final comprehensive and downtown plans. Passage will show a real commitment from the city to existing and potential new downtown businesses.
  • Downtown “ownership.” The No. 1 recommendation from the downtown plan under consideration is clear: Work toward creation of a group or organization that “owns” downtown revitalization efforts. Figuring this out will enable so many other initiatives. We want to begin this work ASAP. There are a number of potential approaches to this (business improvement districts, Main Street Program, etc.), and it will take significant work to flesh out these concepts, determine what works best for South Milwaukee, and build community support. At the May 3 meeting, we will seek council approval for consultant support for this foundational work.
  • We also continue to partner with Growing South Milwaukee, the local group working to establish a community garden in our city. We continue to discuss the former water tower site in the 1200 block of Milwaukee as a prime site. Lease negotiations continue, and I’m hopeful we can see this downtrodden space come to life with something the entire community can be proud of.

Lastly, we are planning to bring before the council this summer a contract proposal to begin work on the potential rebranding of South Milwaukee. This is much more than a logo and slogan for the city. It’s opening a conversation about the preferred identity of South Milwaukee, and, importantly, how we bring that identity to life. Marketing plans, street signage, digital efforts – all of this, and more, will be on the table at some point. But first things first: beginning the community dialog to develop and launch the new citywide brand. Much more to come here.

Have a plan, work the plan. That’s been our goal all along in undertaking this process the past year. With these concrete steps, and more to come, we are indeed committed to working the plan, from day one.

As always, we welcome any and all feedback as we begin this journey. Together.

1 Comment

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One response to “Driving Economic (re)Development

  1. disco

    I stop by my neighbor who is up on South Milwaukee History. He said he “did see” historic preservation in some of the plans for Downtown development. He said I should read the plans more fully. General the state can be up to 25% and the Federal 20%. That means on $200,000 project that comes $90,000 in subtraction off your income tax bill. This money does not from City property taxes. There is also WEDA money and Federal Grants, that are out there. We agreed that the significant happening might be the best approach to apply for the credits. That issue, I brought up his the building of the steam shovels for the panama canal. I got a definite maybe out of him. There are huge problems getting these credits, the story on the getting the South Milwaukee railroad depot onto historical register that it was a multiyear fight. Then, what you can do to the building becomes a paperwork and approval nightmare. However, I was convinced we need to know a lot more on these credits. Getting some sort of committee active needs to be done. But the committee needs to work with the mayor for it to be effective. The last committee definitely was not on the same page as the previous mayor.

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