Jeramey Jannene

More Thoughts on Grand Avenue

By - Aug 5th, 2009 09:19 am
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Milwaukee Talkie, the blog of the Public Policy Forum, examined the urban retail market and how to best utilize the hiring of Deanna Inniss as a business recruiter by BID #21, Milwaukee’s Downtown Business Improvement District.  They noted that one large thing wasn’t on her task list, the inside of Grand Avenue Mall.

Looking at Minneapolis, Melissa Kovach, observes that even with a light-rail line, nearby downtown sporting events, and anchor tenants, the urban mall, Block E, still has a vacancy rate equivelant to Grand Avenue’s (30%).

The way to a healthy urban retail environment proposed by the Public Policy Forum is to focus on unique, indepdent retailers at the street-level.  Words of wisdom that sound similar to what we concluded when we explored the idea of rebuilding the Shops of Grand Avenue.

It’s great to see more and more people coming around to the idea that an urban shopping center that is simply a clone of the suburbs will fail.

What survives?  Look at the Delmar Loop in St. Louis.  An urban neighborhood served by a light-rail line, with good urban, street-level design.  Every time I visit the area, it seems to grow bigger and healthier.

What do we have to look at locally? The Third Ward.  No fixed transit connections, but it is served by two bus lines.  Most importantly though is the extensive network of street-level retail establishments with offices and condos above.  Good urban design grows upon itself, unlike a stationary mall.  This is no more evident than in the growth of the Fifth Ward where retail, offices, and condos are spilling over from the Third Ward.  The Fifth Ward, officially known as Walker’s Pointer is located just south of the Third Ward, and has seen projects like South Water Works spring up over the past year, and now Riviana appears to be moving forward again even in a down economy.

There is also the East Side concept of dorm-oriented development that appears to be taking hold.

By bringing in Deanna Inniss as a recruiter and taking the inside of Grand Avenue off of her plate, she is poised to build off the success of the Third Ward and spread that unique urban shopping experience to the rest of downtown. Godspeed to Deanna, and kudos to BID #21 for bringing her in and not saddling her baggage of bad ideas past.

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6 thoughts on “More Thoughts on Grand Avenue”

  1. Alan says:

    I apologise, but your premise of light rail (or even bus) transit somehow helping the revitalisation of retail stores is a flawed one, at best. How about we spend the money on a useless mass transit system (after all, if there was PROFIT to be made from it, instead of TAX-PAYER-FUNDED SUBSIDIES, there might be some private interest groups) on cleaning up our surrounding areas by expanding and improving on car parking and bus transportation, for a start?

  2. Dave Reid says:

    @Alan All forms of transportation are subsidized, and downtown Milwaukee has plenty of parking.

    If anything downtown Milwaukee has too much parking, which hurts its ability to increase population density and in turn hurts foot traffic for retail. One way rail can help is that in encourages density, which in turn improves foot traffic.

  3. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @Alan

    I didn’t say it was a silver bullet. As evidenced by the fact of the struggles of Block E in Minnesota despite a crazy successful light rail line. Nor did I say that it would be a game changer for downtown retail in Milwaukee. I did say that it was helping the Delmar Loop in St. Louis. Case in point, I wouldn’t have made it out there last time I was in St. Louis without the rail line.

    Your premise that rail would build itself is laughable. Why don’t roads build themselves? Or airports? Simple, transportation is almost always a money losing game. Roads require a gas tax, airlines require public airports.

    Like Dave mentioned though, a rail system like a streetcar can encourage density, which in turn encourages walkability, which is a boon for urban retail.

  4. Chris says:

    Here we go again about improving parking downtown. If you can’t find a place to park, I suggest simply opening your eyes. It couldn’t be easier, and that’s a big part of the transit problem.

    Having just returned from Seattle and seeing what a vibrant retail/transit/urban environment they’re fostering, it makes me realize how far Milwaukee is from having something even remotely close. What did they do right? There’s ample bus support (electric busses no less), fixed rail, major retail tenants clustered with boutiques, hotels, and a major convention center anchoring one end of a primary thoroughfare – anchored by a busy waterfront on the opposite end. It’s simple really: make the city dense, make it easy to navigate, create opposing destinations.

    We do have much of this in place, but when you look at the dismal state Wisconsin Ave is in (our supposed, grand thoroughfare) you see the work needed to be accomplished. Turn the mall in inside out. Feed the street with storefronts and activity. Rethink the mall entirely – maybe it should no longer be a shopping mall, but rather something else? The bottom line is you have to activate the streets, and clearly our main avenue is lacking any kind of showmanship. Sadly, Milwaukee rarely thinks big, and this issue needs some real vision and follow-through.

  5. Dave Reid says:

    @Chris You said it spot on!

  6. Pete says:

    I don’t get why Milwaukee has historically not been known to “think big.” It’s such a great city, and I want to see it reach its full potential, which I see as leaps and bounds from what it is now. I hope that I can somebody make a major difference in the physical landscape of the city, but until then and while I’m still in college, I’ll keep dreaming of what our city could be. I see very big things for Milwaukee, but it will take lots of money and a focused vision that the mayor and other big shots will have to be on board with. At the present time, what I am most impressed with in the city is how we are redeveloping our old treasures in the Third Ward and the Pabst Brewery. Those projects just instill a real sense of pride in this city. And it took some vision. Someday I hope I can be like Joseph Zilber, who single-handedly is improving an entire brewery, Marquette University, and UWM. If Milwaukee had more people like that, the limits would be endless.

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