Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

The Neighborhood Guru

Community organizer Howard Snyder has led many redevelopment projects on the Northwest Side.

When Howard Snyder decided to become the executive director of the Northwest Side Community Development Corporation in 1983 it was, as he calls it, “a gamble.”

Thirty years later, the gamble clearly has paid off. Northwest Side CDC has won a shelf full of local and national awards, including the 2012 Judge’s Choice Vision Award from Wisconsin Commercial Real Estate Women (WCREW) and a 2012 MANDI Award for its work on the Villard Square Grandfamily Complex and Library. Snyder has been the organization’s sole executive director.

The Northwest Side CDC’s mission is to better the quality of life for residents of low-income communities by transforming them into preferred business and residential destinations.

Villard Square is among the group’s most visible successes. Co-developed with Gorman Company and completed in 2010, the development took seven years to build. Snyder explained that five years were spent fighting political battles to build the new library and apartment complex.

“It took us a long time, but it was worth it,” said Snyder. “Now over 150,000 people will be able use that library.”

The $11 million multi-use project has 47 units of affordable housing for grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. The addition of the Villard Library and Grandfamily complex also attracts more people to the area and boosts the economy, Snyder noted.

NWCDC also has helped finance development of Midtown Center, assisted with the financing of two Lena’s Markets and a Kohl’s department store, and financed the start-up of Nature Tech, a manufacturer of cellulose insulation, and the expansion of Helios Solar Works, which manufactures modules for use in solar electric systems.

Through its Neighborhood Strategic Planning project, NWSCDC partners with community stakeholders to enhance the quality of life by improving safety. NWSCDC staff members take a proactive approach, establishing block clubs and block watches, working with landlords and organizing area cleanups.

“The Northwest Side CDC advocates, supports and advances the agenda for the people of their community,” said Leo Ries, executive director of Local Initiatives Support Corporation Milwaukee (LISC).

Snyder said that extensive planning is the key to the success of any major project. “We’ve had a strategic plan since 1996,” he said. “Every three years we spend a full year trying to come up with a plan.” The Northwest CDC is embarking on its next round of planning in 2013.

The CDC has focused on creating multi-use buildings, because they maximize space and profit, Snyder said.

Moving forward, Snyder expects the CDC to be involved in creating jobs for people in the community, along with trying to attract small businesses. “We’re trying to replace ‘big’ here,” said Snyder. “Big buildings around here are old and antiquated, and there’s no need for them. Smaller is entrepreneurial, and it’s what we want,” he added.

“We cannot build a commercial strip, much less a whole neighborhood, until we find ways to eliminate these negative distractions. That is what we’re working on right now.”

This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

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