Water Council is “Absolutely Unique”
Rich Meeusen applauds the group's progress. And Tom Barrett shouts it from the rooftop.
Time moves fast when you’re growing a global water hub.
A mere three years after adopting its first 5-year plan, the Milwaukee Water Council is ready to draft a new one, Badger Meter, Inc. President / CEO / Chairman Richard A. Meeusen told 300 attendees of the council’s Water Summit 2012 during opening remarks at the Pfister Hotel Tuesday, October 9th 2012. The summit runs until Wednesday.
“We did a 5-year plan in three years, so we need a new 5-year plan,” Meeusen, the water council co-chair said, highlighting the group’s mission of “advancing Milwaukee’s global position by becoming a magnet that attracts creative talent, innovative ideas and is recognized as a water leader in tomorrow’s world.”
Meeusen highlighted the ongoing $22 million renovation of a 7-story warehouse building at what is now 233 W. Pittsburgh Ave. which is to serve as the Accelerator Center, to be shared by business and academia for water research and development issues. [See Urban Milwaukee’s photos here.]
“This building does not exist anywhere in the world. It is absolutely unique. This will be an accelerator,” he said. “Not an incubator. The building will be the iPhone of the Water Council, growing — not [merely] attracting — businesses.”
Meeusen said the genesis of the accelerator was a business trip he had taken to Israel where the government created a building with free rent for water entrepreneurs, twelve of whom spent a day, one at a time, pitching him their ideas. [Badger Meter eventually signed a license agreement with one of the inventors, he said.]
The Badger Meter executive noted that water development projects often face delays due to the time it takes for certain engineering processes — mostly labwork — to be completed, citing delays of weeks as commonplace.
But the accelerator will have a “lab that any tenant can use for free,” he said, permitting engineering tests to be done by students on site in hours. “If they need to be certified, there will be an instructor on hand to certify them,” he added.
In addition to the “communal flow lab,” the facility will include a 45-person lecture hall, exhibition space, cafe, and high-tech video conferencing room. Tenant space will range from 1,200 – 14,000 square feet units at $15 per square foot, fully-furnished “plug and play” executive suites from $850 to $3,000 per month and 1,000 – 4,000 sq. ft. incubator suites available at reduced rates for new emerging water related companies. Tyler Hawley, a principal with HKS Holdings, LLC, is handling the leasing.
Other cities have plans similar to Milwaukee’s, Meeusen added, saying that he has heard from officials elsewhere. No prob. “I want to be so far ahead that I don’t care what they are doing.”
Barrett Sees Milwaukee’s Freshwater Way
The water accelerator building is just part of a larger redevelopment of the former Reed Street Yards into a water research and technology park. The 17-acre site is adjacent to the accelerator building and has been vacant for decades since its historic use as a railway switching yard. The city has created an amendment to Tax Incremental District 75 to authorize the expenditure of $6.2 million in infrastructure improvements, such as extending the existing W. Pittsburgh Avenue through the property, and west of the 6th street viaduct.
“However, the name ‘Pittsburgh Avenue’ does not fit with the vision the City, Water Council and the development team have for making this area a worldwide center of water technology and research,” according to the city, which launched a “Name a Street” competition in December 2011, soliciting suggestions from the public for a more appropriate name.
The news was delivered in person by Barrett at the Water Summit. “I cannot just decree the street,” the mayor said. It must first be approved the city’s committee on street names and then by the Common Council.
The mayor said water was important to Milwaukee’s “history, economy, environment, education and recreational enjoyment”
“So, let’s play to our long suit,” he said. “We are the freshwater capital of the world. Let’s shout it from the rooftops.”
“A number of entries suggested keeping Pittsburgh as the street name — although a lot of those were out-of-state entries from Pennsylvania,” the city’s press release wryly noted. Jeff Fleming of the Department of City Development cited “Your Mayor is an Idiot Street” as one of those pesky Pennsylvania suggestions. [An article by this author in December 2011 brought the matter to the attention of Pittsburgh residents, along with exploring the possibility that Pittsburgh might eliminate their Milwaukee Street in retaliation.They haven’t.]
A number of aqueous solutions to the name problem were suggested, incorporating words such as “Aqua, Hydro, Liquid, Poseidon, Clear, Flow, or H2O.”
But Freshwater Way it is — a name that was suggested by seven individuals, each of whom will receive a copy of the street sign, Barrett said.
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