By Aline Morales, NWSP Intern
In 2018 when Near West Side Partners was awarded a Choice Neighborhood Initiative (CNI) Planning Grant from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) several Action Activities were submitted with helpful feedback from residents. These included ideas to improve the community and further the Near West Side. The CNI planning team chose eight out of all 49 projects to be submitted for approval from HUD. Out of those eight, six were chosen to begin and move forward. One of those proposed projects was to transform Fats Triangle, located on 35th and State, into a safer intersection and improve it as a “place for entrance”. You can read more about the current state of the other approved projects here.
Fats Triangle was named after E. Joe Fats Henke from State Street Advancement Association. A tree was planted on that triangle median in honor of the work he did to improve the neighborhood. Many residents suggested this Near West Side landmark needed a positive transformation. Phase one of the project began by removing the tree. It had started to decay and was not as appealing anymore. So, the beautification around the area began. Another aspect of phase one was water control. With the help of Milwaukee Municipal Sewerage District (MMSD) the committee was able to come up with a plan to redesign and cut the triangle in a specific way to make the storm water easily collected.
“The first thing that we did was adjust some sight utilities and put in some additional drain mesures, and rain garden as well as some additional piping in order to help divert some of that water away from the street.” Gage Christianson, the general contractor with Greenfire Management, said when asked about the first phase.
The second phase of the project continued the beautification of the area. Native Wisconsin flowers were planted and lit bollards, that change colors, were also installed. Gage mentioned that phase two, “included site improvements such as concrete walkways, pavers, new landscape plantings, new sod, as well as new lit bollards, and art features. As well as some new precast benches and lit LED benches that people who are waiting on the bus can sit on.” Throughout the year the bollards will change colors to represent the current holiday and add a festive feel to the community.
To bring more art into the space, The Voices of the City project was moved from the Wisconsin Avenue Elementary School fence on 27th to Fats triangle. The ceramic tiles were carefully removed from the fence and cemented onto obelisks.
Another important aspect of the second phase was safety. To make the area safe for pedestrians and neighbors, the sidewalk was widened and concrete benches were added for those waiting for the bus.
When interviewing Jennifer Current, the landscape architect for the the project, from Quorum Architects, she expressed how important it is to “tell the story that these small, sort of leftover spaces, actually can be very interesting open spaces that belong to the public, and they don’t have to be necessarily forgotten or leftover”.
Gage also expressed the project as a “facelift” for the community and how little can actually do for the overall section of town.
“I think understanding that the public realm is ours and we can take it, we can celebrate it, we can make it beautiful and it doesn’t require much to make that change. There are a lot of these small pockets of space in this community that could look at Fats Triangle as an example of small scale big impact”, Jennifer said when asked about the impact that this project has had on the community.
To celebrate the completion of the project, a ribbon cutting celebration and ceremony took place on Wednesday, November 3rd. Almost 40 people gathered at Fats Triangle, including members from the community, stakeholders, community organizations, members of Green Fire, Quorum, and the artists of the Voices of the City project. You can watch the official project video for Fats Triangle here.