Growing (in) Our Downtown

Community garden renderingIMG_5125

There are a lot of reasons to believe in the future of our city center. The biggest? The people stepping up to deliver game-changing ideas.

People like those you see in the above photo (and others) working to deliver a community garden in downtown South Milwaukee.

The group is called Growing South Milwaukee, and they are poised to start turning dirt on garden plots this fall, with planting starting next spring. It will be the culmination of an effort that started in the spring of 2015, with the committee considering several sites before choosing land south of the historic train station on 11th Avenue.

Thirty-three plots are available, measuring around 8×8 feet. Most plots are $30.

More details on Facebook and here …

The group can also use your financial support. It has established a GoFundMe page, with a goal of raising $6,000. Other significant gifts have come from Caterpillar and Cousin’s.

I encourage you to get behind Growing South Milwaukee, and its mission …

Growing South Milwaukee has a deep rooted mission to create and maintain community gardens that inspire people of all ages to grow together. Our gardeners strengthen the community by planting the seeds of change, sharing knowledge and bringing nutrient rich food back to South Milwaukee.

It’s an ambitious mission, one embodied by its board members …

  • President: Leah Manthey
  • Vice President: Brooke Gilley
  • Secretary: Patricia Heim
  • Treasurer: James Davies

Thanks to everyone who is volunteering their time to make this happen!


Filed under South Milwaukee

26 responses to “Growing (in) Our Downtown

  1. Ayano Aishi

    Why don’t you focus on repairing and adding restaurants/shops to downtown. Also tearing down abandoned places would help as well.

    • We’re working hard to do just that (at least the adding restaurants and shops part). We’re making progress, too. C3 Designs, Scrappy’s, Mari’s, Avenue Coffeehouse, JB’s Tee Shirts, Jen’s Sweet Treats, Board Game Barrister — those are a few of the new businesses downtown in the past couple of years. And longstanding ones like Azteca, Parkway Floral, Sorce Martial Arts, DB Tax, and others have invested significantly in their properties. This is a long-term play. It might take 20 years. But we’re on our way, and we celebrate wins like the community garden along the way.

      • Rocandroo

        20 years!?!? Absolutely unbelievable!

      • 20 years is absolutely believable. I say that because almost every downtown revitalization effort I’ve studied has taken that long or longer. Look no further than downtown-style neighborhoods in southern Milwaukee County — Bay View, Third Ward, Fifth Ward. Those took decades to revitalize, and are still doing it in some cases. A group of us, with our consulting partner, studied Hartford, Beloit, Fond du Lac and Libertyville, Ill. — and it’s the same story there too. Racine, Kenosha, Cedarburg, Delafield, Pewaukee, Burlington, etc. This takes time.

        That said, we are moving quickly, and I can point to a number of examples of that. We have lots of wins to celebrate, with more to come. Hopefully we get this done in five years, 10. Even when we do, it will always be a work in progress. The work of revitalization should really never end.

  2. Scott Whitmore

    Oak Creek: A Giant new town square with fountains and a clock tower.
    South Milwaukee: Train station plants.

    • Absolutely! We should all celebrate our historic train station, and the work of local groups like Growing South Milwaukee to revitalize our downtown, and city, in unique ways. I’ll also celebrate our growing list of cool, independent small businesses downtown, as well as all the other strengths South Milwaukee has that Oak Creek doesn’t. We are not going to be the next Oak Creek, nor should we seek that. Oak Creek will develop in its own way, and more power to them. They’ll be successful, but so will we.

      • Rocandroo

        What a cavalier response to a growing concern about the future of the downtown. You do understand that when you promised in your campaign to revitalize the downtown, that the people of SM envisioned something closer to the development that is happening in OC and not the current paint and some plants upgrades that SM is doing. Your “It might take 20 years”, response was very honest and telling that nothing will get done. So just be happy with that train station and the dilapidated downtown, cause nothing is changing soon. That should be SM’s new business motto…it might 20 years, so go to Oak Creek for all your shopping and entertainment needs.

      • Jason Clay

        Well why don’t we take notes from oak creek. Add some brand name stores downtown. Not just local shops. Everyone would like brand name stores that are known internationally. These brand name stores don’t have to be expenisve stores either, like Starbucks or some other well known shops. It will be really nice if you can also take notes from Brookfield square. Very nice, clean, modern restaurants that are affordable and well known. How is oak creek doing it all and we’re still waiting years and years. It’s about time that SM steps up its game for once. I’m tried of seeing empty retail space that no one has used for years. It’s time to take some action and ditch the local shops. South Milwaukee is literally the Lake Geneva of Milwaukee county. But of course lake Geneva has way more shops and restaurants. BUT SM has a better park system and houses. Please just listen and take my advice. SM needs to thrive.

      • Of course we’re taking notes from Oak Creek, among many other communities. But we also shouldn’t look to duplicate what they are doing. We need to be uniquely South Milwaukee; that’s how we will succeed. Our challenges and opportunities are different. That said, in Drexel Town Square, Oak Creek is attempting to build something we already have — a traditional, walkable downtown, with independent merchants at its heart. We have lot of work to do here — redevelopment of existing buildings is 10 times harder than what Oak Creek is doing — but that shows me we’re on the right path. It takes time, but we’ll get it done.

      • gary d jacobson

        The city doesn’t own the train station??????

      • No, it’s owned by Benkowski Builders and Jay Benkowski, who has done a terrific job in restoring and maintaining this important building. He’s invested a lot in doing so.

  3. That’s your opinion. Thank you for it. I’d like to hear from others, too, about what we’ve done and what we’re doing.

  4. Glassa Revega

    I agree with the brand name shops/stores idea. It would be a major improvement to downtown. Like who needs board game barrister? pink bunny games? Stores like these are not doing anything for South Milwaukee. And with oak creek, they are adding new things by the minute. Your telling me SM will take 20 years to develop?!? I don’t get it. SM has all the buildings and it will take 20 years. Oak creek has built giant towers, Drexel apartments, and expanding their school in about a year and a half. This is insane. How hard is it to add a restaurant or a store. The truth is nobody wants to put their own local shop downtown because they never last. I’ve seen it. Wildflour bakery, nonas cafe, grill works pub. The next step is for the mayor to take action and add a modern store that is known and that will attract more business. I’ve heard people around town say the exact same thing. I don’t want people to think SM is a ghost town. The modern way is the way to go. Planet Fitness, for example, is thriving. Crowds of people go in their. The reason for that is because is is known internationally.

    • I respectfully disagree. And it’s not like we don’t have chains in South Milwaukee. They are concentrated on the north and south end shopping districts, on Chicago Avenue. And we have added plenty of new businesses in the last few years across the city — The SHOP, C3 Designs, Mari’s Flowers, Scrappy’s BBQ, Taco Stop, Jen’s Sweet Treats, Mara’s Sewing House, Tracker’s, Island Jam, among others, in the past year alone. Others have renovated or expanded — Ace Hardware, DB Tax, Sorce Martial Arts, JB’s Tee Shirts, Styled Aesthetic, among them, with South Shore Family Chiropractic coming soon. We are making progress. For a fully developed city, this almost never happens quickly.

  5. RocketMom

    I was sitting in the company cafeteria a few months ago and overheard a millennial complaining that they couldn’t find a house to buy because inventory was limited.
    Her lunch companion asked “where are you looking?”
    She said, “South Milwaukee”.
    I Nearly fell off my chair.

    Listen up baby boomers, professional Millennials are zeroing in on South Milwaukee. Millennials want side walks, park land, walking distance to the beach, bike trails, and eclectic architecture, farm-to-table restaurants, open and affirming diversity.

    If you want the schizophrenic Disneyfried feel of a fake downtown, go to Oak Creek. We will never be Oak Creek, nor do I want Rockettown to be Oak Creek.

    “Let’s get our wedding photos taken in a subdivison,” Said Nobody. Ever!

    These nay sayers are old-minded and disappointed.

    • Gary B

      Love the comments RocketMom – on point.

    • Ben O.

      I am a millennial (29 y/o, SM homeowner), and I couldn’t agree more. Oak Creek is not desirable to me in the slightest. SM has a great small town/neighborhood feel, and is in a fantastic location near the lake and Grant Park. I would love to see SM create its own identity, much like Bay View has done. Most people my age aren’t looking for another generic Applebee’s – we seek out uniqueness (Taco Stop is a great example, I have friends that come from all over MKE to eat there). Quality takes time, and this is coming from someone whose generation is known for demanding “instant gratification”.

      Keep up the good work, y’all!

  6. Gary B

    Happy to see this group of people with ambitious and achievable goals working for our city. Don’t ever let the doubters discourage you.

  7. Veronica

    All the town really wants is nice restaurants and shops. Is perfectly fine if they are local shops. But the problem is that they are taking forever to come. I’m tried of people talking about oak creek too. Like what is so good about oak creek? They don’t have good parks, they don’t have a lake drive, they don’t have a small downtown area,their school is small, and it has a lot of crime. I really want South Milwaukee to reach its true potential.

  8. I’ve never commented on this blog before but I feel as though some of these comments are indicative of a lack of understanding about what exactly it takes to revitalize a city and wanted to chime in. It’s not about already having the buildings or the infrastructure. It’s not about bringing in big-name retailers. There’s so much more involved, and the biggest hurdle to overcome in the early phases is changing people’s perspectives about the city.

    Mayor Brooks’s examples of Bay View and Walker’s Point are quite apt. These neighborhoods for years had the reputation of being rough, dying patches of Milwaukee in which nobody wanted to hang out, let alone live. It has taken decades for Bay View to evolve to the point it is now, where it is a destination spot for young families and where there is a constantly growing community of people who truly care about making it the best it can be. Walker’s Point is a little farther behind in its revitalization, but if you drive down First Street, you’ll see all of the new housing and businesses suddenly beginning to pop up. This isn’t something that has happened overnight–it has taken many years for the Walker’s Point neighborhood to rehab its image and attract investors and buyers.

    I, too, am a millennial homeowner who recently bought in South Milwaukee after having lived in Bay View for several years. I can tell you without any doubt in my mind that people of my age group seek out places that have local businesses and products. This is why Bay View and Walker’s Point have become such trendy spots–there is a real, genuine feeling of community ownership in these spots. Oak Creek has had financial success in its redevelopment of the Drexel Square area, for sure, but it also does not have a whole lot of soul.

    Consider also the fact that many large box stores and traditional powerhouse chains are struggling or folding up. Look at Best Buy, K-Mart, the various “fast casual” restaurants, etc. These are no longer the kinds of businesses that produce sustained value for a city. Instead, the smartest way to proceed is to attract locally owned, high-quality businesses that can become anchors in a way that supports/encourages development of other new small businesses in the area.

    For those of you who are floored at the mayor’s suggestion that it could take up to 20 years for the results of all this work to be clear, there are several things you can do to help make that turnaround go faster.

    1. Attend local events, and bring friends. The more well-attended community events are, the more other people will become invested in creating events and organizations of their own. An active community that takes ownership of these events is significantly more attractive for younger people/potential buyers than a community that feels shut in.

    2. Support local businesses as much as possible. Restaurants, coffee shops, mechanics, you name it. Those couple “anchor businesses” the city needs to support a growing, thriving business community will not be attracted to a city that does not support its existing businesses.

    3. Do what you can to foster an authentic community in your neighborhood. Watch out for each other. Be kind. Have cookouts. Help each other. Take pride in your community.

    South Milwaukee essentially spent several decades sitting on mothballs. Sorry people, the Mayor is right, it’s not going to be a five-year miracle turnaround. This is something that is going to take a lot of time, and it has to be done in the right way if the turnaround is actually going to happen. I personally am very encouraged in the steps that are being taken to lay the groundwork for long-term success.

    Also, to be on topic for the first time, love the community garden idea!

    • SpookyWagons

      Everlong016 for the win! This couldn’t have been said any better, in my opinion.

      I wish I was as good at words as you is…

    • Rocandroo

      Do you really think Eric Brooks has been the first mayor to propose the idea of revitalizing the downtown and surrounding areas of SM? This has been a bone of contention for the residents of SM for many many years. There have been multiple mayors that have promised the same thing and clearly SM has made little progress compared to other cities. Talk to any long time SM resident about the downtown and they will start laughing because of all the promises that have been made over the years. The frustration comes from a lot of talk, a lot of promises, a lot of taxpayer money going to consulting firms, public officials, committees and surveys – with very little to show for it. So yes, another 20 years is laughable. Our public officials need to start hustling, be proactive, recruit, seek out businesses and promote SM. Stop waiting for the slow drip of businesses coming to us and go out and get them.

      • (I’d posted as everlong016 before, didn’t know how to get my name to show up)

        Of course I don’t think that the revitalization of downtown is a new idea. But I definitely do think that in the past, there has been either a lack of commitment to doing it the right way, a lack of the proper economic circumstances, or both. Right now, there are plenty more examples of successful revitalizations that can be looked to as examples for South Milwaukee to follow, and the market circumstances are right.

        Everything I have seen and heard indicates our public officials *are* being proactive. If you want to “start laughing” at promises being made while people are doing actual work, that’s your prerogative, but I personally choose to do what I can to support the long-term vision being put in place for this city and to help make it the best place to live that I can. If long-time residents are so cynical that they refuse to get on board, then maybe they are part of the problem.

  9. Nels Monson

    I am a life-long resident of SM and yes, while previous mayors may have given little more than lip service towards the goal of revitalizing our Downtown, I believe our current one is actually and genuinely working hard to accomplish it. Not all “long-time residents” are so cynical.

    • Frank Gratke

      Nels, the Historical Preservation Committee needs to be reactivated and Nels, you need to start helping the Mayor out. He tries hard but can not do it alone.

  10. Rocandroo

    Not cynical, just realistic. Good luck.

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