April 16. 2012 9:00AM

What does the Third Ward need?

By Andrew Weiland

As several condominium and apartment building developments were built in Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward, the neighborhood's population surged from 490 in 2000 to 1,536 in 2010.

The Third Ward's new residents enjoy the urban, pedestrian-friendly warehouse district feel of the neighborhood and appreciate the easy access to its restaurants and boutique stores.

"There's a vibe," said Department of City Development Commissioner Richard "Rocky" Marcoux. "People like the coolness factor."
However, the neighborhood still lacks some basic conveniences, and many residents hope to see those added in a potential development project at the 15-acre Italian Community Center site, located just west of the Summerfest grounds in the Third Ward.
Several residents say the neighborhood's biggest need is a drug store, such as Walgreens.

"That's just something we don't have," said Dan Katt, a Third Ward resident and the project development director for Eppstein Uhen Architects, which is also located in the neighborhood. "There's really nowhere to go (in the neighborhood) when you are sick at 11 o'clock at night where you can run out and get what you need."

Some Third Ward residents also said they would like to have a grocery store in the neighborhood.

"A grocery store is on everybody's wish list," said Andrew Wadsworth, a Third Ward resident and an employee benefits specialist at The Rauser Agency Inc. in Milwaukee "If we could get a place like Sendik's on Oakland (in Shorewood). That's not a big store, but they provide a lot of conveniences."

Good Harvest Market, an organic grocery store, closed its Third Ward location two years ago. Many Third Ward residents do their grocery shopping at the Metro Market store or the Whole Foods store, both located on the East Side.

"There's really nothing convenient in the Third Ward," said Bill Otis, president and chief operating officer of Patrick Cudahy. Otis lives in the penthouse of a Third Ward building. "We have to go out of The Ward to buy any type of grocery."

The neighborhood has numerous restaurants, but almost all of them are fairly high-priced, sit-down restaurants. The neighborhood lacks places for fast, cheap eats.

"(The neighborhood needs) fast food or just something like Jimmy John's," said Mandi Baronas, a public relations assistant account executive for Nelson Schmidt Inc. who lives in the Jefferson Block Apartments complex. "We don't have anything like that."

The neighborhood needs even more restaurants and entertainment venues, Otis said.

"We've got a small number of stable places that have been there awhile, but we haven't had a whole lot of new ones that have made it," he said. "They come and go. We need more stable restaurants and entertainment in The Ward to continue to draw people."

The ICC has indicated that a hotel might be part of its development project. Although several new hotels are under construction in the downtown area, the Third Ward still does not have its own hotel. Some of the neighborhood's residents, many of whom live in one- or two-bedroom apartments or condos, say a hotel would be useful for their out-of-town guests.

"That would be a benefit," Katt said. "A lot of people that live in apartments or condos have family members that would use it when they come for a visit."

Nancy O'Keefe, executive director of the Historic Third Ward Association, said, "The Third Ward really needs a hotel, but that's not going to happen right away because the numbers aren't there. But our phones are always ringing from people who want to know where the closest hotel to the Third Ward is."

A Third Ward hotel could also provide a place for people to stay when attending conferences at the ICC, Summerfest or the other ethic festivals. The ICC site is right next to the Summerfest grounds.

"There's certainly a need for a hotel in the neighborhood," Wadsworth said.

However, a development on the ICC site will replace huge surface parking lots used for Summerfest and the other festivals held at the lakefront. Any development project will have to include parking for the development and will need to address the parking needs of the festivals.

"You would have to believe any development would include some type of parking feature," said Don Smiley, president and chief executive officer of Summerfest.

Marcoux said he is confident the ICC will work with Summerfest and other neighbors to make sure the project fits in with the area's needs.

"We have a great working relationship with the ICC," said Smiley, who expressed excitement about the development project. "I love the idea of generating enthusiasm and entertainment and business options in this area. I think it's great."

If done right, the development of the ICC site will enhance Summerfest, which has invested $59 million during the last seven years to enhance its grounds, including the $39.5 million project to improve the south end of the grounds, which will be completed this year.

"There's no doubt in my mind we will see (the ICC) do something that adds value and enhances the vibrancy of the Third Ward, Summerfest and the downtown area," Marcoux said.

Otis, who lives across the street from the ICC, agrees that development of the ICC site has the potential to take the Third Ward to the next level.

"Most of the year that is just a barren parking lot," he said. "Anything they could do to enhance that area of the Third Ward will be a big plus for all of us. The Ward needs more."