By Anne Marie Gunn and Lucas Johnson
In September of 2018, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded Near West Side Partners a Choice Neighborhood Initiative (CNI) planning grant, presenting the opportunity to restore the historic vibrance of the Near West Side community. This grant included the creation of a CNI planning team consisting of Near West Side Residents, NWSP staff, Marquette University staff and students, as well as Housing authority of the city of Milwaukee staff, that worked together to create a vision for the transformation of the Near West Side. One brainchild that came from this team were several Action Activities that were submitted by residents and evaluated by the planning team. These activities were projects that could be implemented in a year’s time and supported physical improvements in the community that can lead to further economic development in the Near West Side. A total of 49 projects were submitted by residents, then the CNI planning team used resident feedback to narrow this number down to eight. The eight projects were then submitted to HUD for approval, of the eight projects six were given the greenlight to move forward. Here is the current state of those six Action Activities.
Traffic Calming Planters
Reckless driving has consistently been an issue for the Near West Side, and for the city of Milwaukee as a whole. Partnering with the City of Milwaukee, this particular Action Activity aims to combat the issue of reckless driving that is plaguing the Near West Side community, while also making the commercial corridors of the Near West Side more aesthetically pleasing. Thirty large concrete flower planters were strategically placed at 22 intersections across the Near West Side, serving as temporary curb bump outs. These planters disallow drivers from driving into the parking lane at these intersections, protecting the pedestrians using the crosswalk and slowing down the traffic on the street.
Click the links below to read an article published by WISN news covering the implementation of these traffic calming planters and watch a video produced by LISC Milwaukee about all of NWSP’s streetscaping initiatives.
LISC Milwaukee: https://youtu.be/nZk1e6ev8uI
Pictured above: A few examples of the Traffic calming Planters that were strategically placed across the Near West Side.
“Fats” Triangle is a traffic median located at the intersection of North 35th and West State Streets. Named after E. Joe “Fats” Henke of the State Street Advancement Association, “Fats” Triangle has been a Near West Side landmark for many decades. The site was identified by residents as a location in need of positive transformation. In 2020, the first stages of beautification took place. A decaying pine tree was removed and strategic curb cuts were constructed to allow storm water from 35th Street, State Street and Linden Place to be captured. To bring the first phase of the project to fruition, the CNI Planning Team partnered with the Milwaukee Municipal Sewerage District (MMSD).
The second phase of this project, funded by HUD, has moved from beautification to creation of a space that better protects pedestrians and transit riders. The intersection is busy with traffic and an active bus stop for two major bus lines. The sidewalk has been widened to create a larger buffer between pedestrians and cars, and concrete benches will be installed in the next couple weeks to give bus riders a safer and more convenient place to wait for city transportation. Flowers, bollards, and the Voices of the City project will all be installed bringing the project to a completion by the end of Fall.
Painting the Near West Side
The Painting the Near West Side Action Activity looked to add public art installations to the side of various buildings across the Near West Side community. This project aims to improve the facade of business buildings, beautify the neighborhood while honoring its culture and history, and showcase the talents of local artists. The final designs for each of the eight murals were narrowed down by resident voting. So far, four of the murals have been installed and the fifth will be installed within the next couple of weeks. See below the locations and artists for each mural, links to blogposts about some of the artists, and a link to a recording of one of the unveilings.
3809 W Vliet St, west facing wall | Mural by Jenie Gao
800 N 27th St, east facing wall | Mural by Byada Meredith (blogpost link)
3020 W Vliet St, east facing wall | Mural by Brad Bernard (blogpost link), (recording of unveiling ceremony)
3504 W Park Hill, south facing wall | Mural by Fred Kaems
2222 W Clybourn, south facing wall | Mural by Rosy Petri (blogpost link)
The Near West Side Neighborhood Marker project’s goal is to acknowledge the distinction and vibrance of the seven Near West Side neighborhoods. The installation of a central marker will showcase each neighborhood’s unique history to residents and visitors. All seven markers have a similar design to unify the seven neighborhoods as a part of the Near West Side.
With resident feedback, Brandon Minga and Andre St. Louis were selected from a number of artists to design the seven markers. Residents had the opportunity to review the renderings of the markers, the content that will be displayed, as well as weigh in on the location within their own neighborhood. As of now, the markers are being fabricated, the locations have been finalized, and the first marker is predicted to be installed by the end of October. Keep an eye out for a ribbon cutting of this first installation!
Storefront Improvement Project
The fifth Action Activity that is taking place in the Near West Side is the Storefront Improvement Project. Eight building owners were selected to receive facade grants on 12 storefronts. Throughout the commercial corridors, you will see the exterior of these buildings being renovated. For example, Rick Wiegand plans to renovate the former Wisconsin Avenue School into a distinguished hotel, activating the property for the first time in almost 15 years. Other projects are aiming to increase the chances of a new tenant moving into the buildings. Here you can see a blogpost about one of the building owners, Tom Schuler, doing just that with the building that was formerly the Milwaukee Nut Company.
New State Music Park
As an extension of THE NEW STATE development, THE NEW STATE Music Park, will offer the community a unique and intimate open air music experience for the Near West Side. West Side Arts Unlimited (WSAU) and THE NEW STATE will honor the history of the State Theater by establishing a creative performance space for young artists and serving as a catalyst for aspiring artists in Milwaukee. As the only all-ages sober music venue in the City of Milwaukee, THE NEW STATE will provide a space to cultivate a community of artists focused around modern music, production, performance and professional development. The greenspace will be the host of both formal and informal performances to give all the chance to enjoy music. Also included as a Storefront Improvement Project recipient, THE NEW STATE Cafe which looks out onto the park, is included in this development. THE NEW STATE Cafe and Music Park are predicted to be complete this Spring. Here you will find a blogpost that details the project further.
Near West Side Partners hopes that the combination of these Action Activities results in physical changes in the community that alters the appearance and perception of the Near West Side. Furthermore, it is the hope of NWSP that these Action Activities will spur additional transformation of the community. For any further information or questions about the various Action Activities you can contact NWSP’s Choice Neighborhood and Commercial Corridor Development (CCC) Administrator Anne Marie Gunn at firstname.lastname@example.org.