Growing Our Economy

Park East Development
Milwaukee County is leading a historic effort to develop the old Park East freeway land and dramatically reshape downtown Milwaukee.

"All of Milwaukee County has a vested interest in the successful development of the Park East.  We’ve come to a really exciting place where there is broad cooperation among parties, clear processes, and forward momentum,” says County Executive Abele.

In recent years this area has produced several new developments, including apartments and condominiums, a new hotel, a parking garage and athletic complex, and several business relocations. 

In partnership with the Milwaukee Bucks, this latest development project will create a year-round destination in downtown Milwaukee that is anchored by a new sports and entertainment center.  This development project will:

  • Create $400 million in mixed use development
  • Create a 17,500 person arena with an urban plaza
  • Create a new NBA practice facility
  • Create 1.5 million square feet for residential, office, parking, and other uses
  • Create 3,700 new jobs(supporting 2,700 construction jobs and creating 1,000 new permanent jobs) with an emphasis on hiring County residents and disadvantaged business entities
  • Add $4.5 million per year to the County’s property tax base
  • Generate about $200 million in income tax revenue over 20 years

View this slideshow for a glimpse at how this development project will transform downtown Milwaukee.

On September 9th, 2015, County Executive Abele joined Bucks President Peter Feigin, representatives from organized labor, and other supporters to announce the approved sale of Park East land to the Bucks. 

“I am thrilled to finalize the Park East sale so we can get to work transforming an empty, unused space into a vibrant development that will serve as an economic engine of Milwaukee County for years to come and keep the Bucks right here in Milwaukee,” County Executive Abele said.  “This deal is proof that good things happen when we all work together for the benefit of Milwaukee County.”

Positive momentum in the Park East continues into 2016 with announced plans for Wangard Partners development of the long-vacant County-owned parcel at Water Street and Milwaukee Street, and the completion of Phases 2 and 3 of the Avenir Apartments project.

The Couture Project
For years Milwaukee County’s Downtown Transit Center has been underutilized as a bus storage and bus transfer facility. Owned by Milwaukee County, this prime real estate generates no property tax revenues and almost no visitors. Under County Executive Abele’s leadership the county decided to put the property to a higher and better use.

The county issued an RFI in 2012 and selected developer Rick Barrett to build a 44-story, $122 million mixed use apartment tower called the Couture. County Executive Abele’s announcement of the Couture development was considered a game changer for Milwaukee. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel called it an “instant landmark, the kind of project that could reshape Milwaukee’s sense of itself.”

The Couture project will put thousands of people to work while also greatly increasing space near the lakefront and creating a first of its kind transportation hub.  The building will be designed to house 600 people in its apartments.  The project includes  over 80,000 square feet of public space, including a rooftop park, a public transportation hub for Milwaukee’s new streetcar system, Milwaukee County bus transit, a Bublr bike share station, a pedestrian bridge across Lincoln Memorial Drive that connects to the lakefront gateway, public plazas, and connections to restaurants and other local businesses. 

The project, negotiated by County Executive Abele, includes an agreement that at least 40% of workers will be County residents. Developer Rick Barrett has also agreed to spend tens of millions of dollars hiring minority contractors and firms, a move that will greatly benefit Milwaukee’s underserved and out of work residents.

“The planned Couture development will create a vibrant public space that improves access to the lakefront, creates thousands of jobs, and adds another signature building to Milwaukee,” says County Executive Abele. 

UpLift MKE
This initiative will spread the economic benefits of Milwaukee’s construction boom throughout the city by providing opportunity, support, and access to permanent jobs for residents of Milwaukee’s poorest neighborhoods.

Milwaukee County and the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board (MAWIB), the Milwaukee Area Technical College, Milwaukee Public Schools, and the Milwaukee Bucks are partnering on a new initiative called UpLift MKE.

UpLift MKE will use Milwaukee County money to fund an innovative jobs development model that will offer workers the chance to build a career by providing opportunities and removing traditional barriers to successful employment.  County Executive Abele launched the UpLift MKE program with an initial investment of $400,000 that was funded by proceeds from the sale of unused County land.

UpLift MKE will utilize a “sector-based intermediary approach,” where MAWIB will work with employers, trainers, and community organizations to match job candidates with targeted training and available opportunities, administer funds, and track data to measure effectiveness.

To maximize the benefits provide to Milwaukee’s most disadvantaged residents, UpLift MKE will utilize a Pay for Performance model of employee recruitment. Bonus funds are provided to the Coordinating Agency when it successfully places individuals who reside in those zip codes that have the highest unemployment rates. Milwaukee’s most disadvantaged zip code, 53206, has an official unemployment rate of over 30%.

UpLift MKE will use a variety of tools to assist job seekers and benefit the community. Throughout their employment period, UpLift MKE will provide support for job candidates, guiding them through the process, holding them accountable, and assisting with related challenges, like transportation. UpLift MKE will also place a special focus on parents who owe child support, offering fathers and mothers who want the opportunity to improve their economic security. Lauded by employers, the UpLift MKE design spreads the benefits of economic development to those in need without reducing the financial viability of new constructions projects.

“From the Park East to the Couture to Northwestern Mutual, I’m proud that Milwaukee is experiencing a genuine construction boom,” County Executive Abele said. “I’m even prouder that UpLift MKE will help ensure that the benefits of this boom spread throughout all of Milwaukee’s neighborhoods. We’re not just offering a job, we’re offering a career path and the support that’s needed to move up the ladder.”

UW-Milwaukee's Innovation Campus
UW-Milwaukee’s development of Innovation Campus on the former County Grounds is a public-private partnership that will be celebrated for decades.

Since taking office in 2011, County Executive Abele has guided the location of ABB, a global leader in power and automation technology, and hundreds of high-paying jobs to this 23 acre technology park.  ABB is an ideal fit within the original vision of the Milwaukee County Research Park, including nurturing technology-based companies.  Innovation Campus builds off the success of the Research Park and offers the benefit of locating near the high value research underway at the UWM Innovation Accelerator building.  The Innovation Accelerator is a facility with labs for engineering professors who collaborate with researchers at the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center.  These exciting developments have spurred further growth nearby with a new extended stay hotel that broke ground in 2015, the construction of 188 apartments in a new structure, and the adaptive reuse of one of the historic “Eschweiler buildings” into space for community use, offices, club and exercise rooms for residents.  All of this development was made possible by a collaboration of public sector partners including the UWM Foundation, the City of Wauwatosa, the US Department of Commerce, and Milwaukee County.  The project had several hurdles but every challenge was met with a successful solution including the construction of the new Discovery Parkway and a habitat restoration project to preserve the natural significance of the former County Grounds.  County Executive Abele embraces the collaborative public-private approach to development and is eager to work with other educational institutions on economic development opportunities.

“This project is an example of the positive partnerships I have been building since I took office.  This development will create much needed jobs and tax base and help attract new businesses to the County,” said County Executive Abele. 

City Campus Development
The Abele Administration is proud to be a catalyst for a new development project involving the now-vacant City Campus buildings located on Wells Street between N. 27th St. and N. 28th St.

While the near west side has experienced poverty and blight in recent years, the sale of county-owned land to developer Rick Wiegand is a step in the right direction for residents of this neighborhood.  Working with Milwaukee County’s economic development professionals, Mr. Wiegand bought the City Campus property and announced that he plans to rehabilitate the nine-story building on site.  Best known as the developer of the Ambassador Hotel, Mr. Wiegand has a track record of success and plans to restore the exterior of the two-story and five-story buildings located on the site and create new storefront space along N. 27th St.

As part of the development agreement, Milwaukee County would contribute $800,000 to an Economic Development Fund that would be matched dollar-for-dollar by the Near West Side Partners.  Near West Side Partners is a nonprofit coalition of business leaders, community advocates, residents, and anchor institutions such as Aurora Health Care, MillerCoors, Harley-Davidson, Marquette University, and Potowatomi Business Development Corporation.  The Development Fund would be used to promote neighborhood stability and economic growth on the near west side of Milwaukee by engaging in activities including property acquisition and rehabilitation, small business development, restoration and renovation assistance for local property owners, and façade improvements. 

In addition to being a catalytic economic development project, County taxpayers are seeing a $1.4 million per year savings in reduced maintenance costs and avoided capital expenditures as county staff have moved to new locations.

"This is another example of how Milwaukee County is working to leverage our assets into savings for the taxpayers, economic development opportunities for local businesses, and partnerships that help neighborhoods like the Near West Side thrive," said County Executive Abele.  "Rick Wiegand and the Near West Side Partners have been instrumental in revitalizing this important part of our community and the County is happy to join them in financing projects that will make the Near West Side an even more vibrant community."

Linking People to Jobs Through Public Transportation
An effective transit system plays a huge role in Milwaukee’s economic development.  A recent report from the Huron Consulting Group found that the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS)generates $342 million in annual benefits – more than double its annual expenses. Since taking office, improving public transit has been a priority of the County Executive.

In 2011, Executive Abele inherited a transit system that experienced ten straight years of service cuts or fare increases. That trend reversed under Abele’s leadership, as Milwaukee County has had five consecutive years without fare increases or route cuts. In fact, in 2016 Milwaukee County will have added more than one million route miles since County Executive Abele took office.

We have made other investments in transportation services, including:

  • Providing more miles of transit without increasing fares and adding over 100 buses to the fleet

  • Installing new fareboxes on buses that allows for the use of a stored value card called the M-Card

  • Developing two new transit express bus routes

  • Making several County Trunk Highway signal improvements

  • Reconditioning Layton Avenue to create an improved freight connection from the airport to the Port of Milwaukee.

  • Remodeling and modernizing the baggage claim building at General Mitchell International Airport  resulting in a much-improved travel experience for customers.  GMIA also improved the screening process for air travelers by centralizing baggage screening and removing exterior screening equipment from the ticketing area. 

  • Gaining year-round, nonstop service to important West Coast business markets

Still, there is room to improve. Milwaukee County has a plan to bolster economic opportunity for its residents by helping workers reach employment using public transit.  One part of this strategy is the Milwaukee County Transit System’s pilot project to add 20,000 route miles in 2016 by extending routes into St. Francis.  Another part of the strategy is holding bus fares flat.

A third part of the strategy involves Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).  In June 2015, County Executive Abele directed the Department of Transportation to explore connecting the region’s two biggest job centers with Bus Rapid Transit service. 

BRT uses design elements such as a dedicated right-of-way, traffic signal priority, and longer buses that result in quicker and more efficient service, particularly to longer-distance destinations.  BRT buses stop at fewer locations and are able to achieve much of the speed and effectiveness of light rail without the same capital investment. Recommended by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC), the project corridor will connect downtown Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center, the two top job centers in the metro area.  Routes will serve urban and suburban communities, major employers such as Marquette University, Harley-Davidson, and MillerCoors, and various residential, business, and entertainment destinations.

“Transit is economic development, and a well-designed BRT system will efficiently and affordably connect more people to more jobs while helping create a climate that attracts new businesses and new workers to Milwaukee,” says County Executive Abele.

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