Initiative aims to attract startups to revitalize commercial districts

Real Estate Spotlight

For the past four years, Dr. Noemi Prieto’s former office at South Cesar E. Chavez Drive and West Greenfield Avenue on Milwaukee’s south side has been vacant.

Prieto purchased the building more than a decade ago for her pediatrics practice. After her retirement, she found no one was interested in purchasing the 7,882-square-foot property.

The city is working with the property owner at North 19th Street and West North Avenue to white box the building and find a “pop-up” retail tenant as part of a new initiative. Credit Corrinne Hess

“Many businesses had left the area and a lot of the properties were empty,” Prieto said. “The city was astute enough to start planting the seeds a few years ago and set up programs to bring the south side and Walker’s Point back to life.”

Prieto is now taking part in a new initiative that has been launched by the city of Milwaukee and a consortium of nonprofit and business leaders to help revitalize three commercial districts near downtown Milwaukee.

The project, called “Ramp Up,” provides an initial $200,000 investment from JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s PRO Neighborhoods initiative to finance white box and façade improvements for properties like Prieto’s.

Her one-story, two-unit building at 1308 S. Cesar E. Chavez Drive is currently being renovated with help from a city grant. Once complete, she will work with Kenneth Little, commercial corridor manager for the Department of City Development, to find tenants for the space.

“I would love to bring some of the services back to the community (that are) not currently available,” Prieto said. “I really look forward to being able to enhance the community.”

The pilot phase of the Ramp Up program, which was launched in early October, includes developing and matching small businesses with “pop-up” retail opportunities that activate commercial space and make way for permanent retail placements.

The goal is to set up pop-up shops in three commercial districts over the next year. The targeted districts are:

  • The Cesar E. Chavez Business Improvement District, which is South Cesar E. Chavez Drive between West National Avenue and West Lapham Boulevard.
  • The Historic King Drive BID, which is on North Dr. Martin Luther King Drive between West McKinley Avenue and West Locust Street.
  • The North Avenue/Fond du Lac Marketplace BID, which is on West North Avenue, between North Eighth and North 27th streets and West Fond du Lac Avenue  between North 17th and North 27th streets.

Twelve to 15 retail-friendly businesses are expected to participate, giving entrepreneurs a chance to test their projects and strategies.

The Ramp Up project is being modeled after several similar programs across the country, including Detroit’s successful Motor City Match program.

Motor City Match distributes $500,000 quarterly to new and existing small businesses to revitalize struggling neighborhoods. The money comes from Detroit-area foundations, as well as block grant funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“Just as development capital has flowed to downtown opportunities, we want to make sure investments flow to adjacent cultural commercial corridors that have been plagued by historical disinvestment,” Donsia Strong Hill, executive director of Local Initiatives Support Corp. Milwaukee said in a written statement. “This strategy will help these districts stabilize and mitigate the risk of displacement.”

LISC will provide technical assistance to the BIDs and property owners, and supplement funds with additional financing products.

The Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp. will help identify and match small businesses and artists well-suited for the commercial districts and available space.

Ramp Up also includes a new Milwaukee branch of Mortar, a Cincinnati-based minority business accelerator. The Milwaukee program will be based at the African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin, in partnership with LISC and the Milwaukee Urban League.

Deshea Agee, executive director of the Historic King Drive BID, has a few properties in mind he would like to see white boxed through the program. One is an empty storefront located in the 2000 block of North Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, between Fein Brothers and DreamBikes.

There is also a prime building just east of the Foot Locker store at 339 W. North Ave., Agee said.

“Once we get tenants in there, it will highlight the space,” Agee said. “Even if the space isn’t permanently occupied, this program provides support at the start for people who are just starting out and for the property owners.”

As far as finding tenants, who ideally will be entrepreneurs, Agee said he already knows a handful of people living in the neighborhood who are interested in starting businesses. He expects more people will come forward after the MKE Business Now entrepreneurship summit, held annually in January.

For the past four years, Dr. Noemi Prieto’s former office at South Cesar E. Chavez Drive and West Greenfield Avenue on Milwaukee’s south side has been vacant.

Prieto purchased the building more than a decade ago for her pediatrics practice. After her retirement, she found no one was interested in purchasing the 7,882-square-foot property.

The city is working with the property owner at North 19th Street and West North Avenue to white box the building and find a “pop-up” retail tenant as part of a new initiative. Credit Corrinne Hess

“Many businesses had left the area and a lot of the properties were empty,” Prieto said. “The city was astute enough to start planting the seeds a few years ago and set up programs to bring the south side and Walker’s Point back to life.”

Prieto is now taking part in a new initiative that has been launched by the city of Milwaukee and a consortium of nonprofit and business leaders to help revitalize three commercial districts near downtown Milwaukee.

The project, called “Ramp Up,” provides an initial $200,000 investment from JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s PRO Neighborhoods initiative to finance white box and façade improvements for properties like Prieto’s.

Her one-story, two-unit building at 1308 S. Cesar E. Chavez Drive is currently being renovated with help from a city grant. Once complete, she will work with Kenneth Little, commercial corridor manager for the Department of City Development, to find tenants for the space.

“I would love to bring some of the services back to the community (that are) not currently available,” Prieto said. “I really look forward to being able to enhance the community.”

The pilot phase of the Ramp Up program, which was launched in early October, includes developing and matching small businesses with “pop-up” retail opportunities that activate commercial space and make way for permanent retail placements.

The goal is to set up pop-up shops in three commercial districts over the next year. The targeted districts are:

  • The Cesar E. Chavez Business Improvement District, which is South Cesar E. Chavez Drive between West National Avenue and West Lapham Boulevard.
  • The Historic King Drive BID, which is on North Dr. Martin Luther King Drive between West McKinley Avenue and West Locust Street.
  • The North Avenue/Fond du Lac Marketplace BID, which is on West North Avenue, between North Eighth and North 27th streets and West Fond du Lac Avenue  between North 17th and North 27th streets.

Twelve to 15 retail-friendly businesses are expected to participate, giving entrepreneurs a chance to test their projects and strategies.

The Ramp Up project is being modeled after several similar programs across the country, including Detroit’s successful Motor City Match program.

Motor City Match distributes $500,000 quarterly to new and existing small businesses to revitalize struggling neighborhoods. The money comes from Detroit-area foundations, as well as block grant funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“Just as development capital has flowed to downtown opportunities, we want to make sure investments flow to adjacent cultural commercial corridors that have been plagued by historical disinvestment,” Donsia Strong Hill, executive director of Local Initiatives Support Corp. Milwaukee said in a written statement. “This strategy will help these districts stabilize and mitigate the risk of displacement.”

LISC will provide technical assistance to the BIDs and property owners, and supplement funds with additional financing products.

The Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp. will help identify and match small businesses and artists well-suited for the commercial districts and available space.

Ramp Up also includes a new Milwaukee branch of Mortar, a Cincinnati-based minority business accelerator. The Milwaukee program will be based at the African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin, in partnership with LISC and the Milwaukee Urban League.

Deshea Agee, executive director of the Historic King Drive BID, has a few properties in mind he would like to see white boxed through the program. One is an empty storefront located in the 2000 block of North Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, between Fein Brothers and DreamBikes.

There is also a prime building just east of the Foot Locker store at 339 W. North Ave., Agee said.

“Once we get tenants in there, it will highlight the space,” Agee said. “Even if the space isn’t permanently occupied, this program provides support at the start for people who are just starting out and for the property owners.”

As far as finding tenants, who ideally will be entrepreneurs, Agee said he already knows a handful of people living in the neighborhood who are interested in starting businesses. He expects more people will come forward after the MKE Business Now entrepreneurship summit, held annually in January.

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