New Innovation & Wellness Commons Opens
New facility created by Walnut Way on North Ave. seeks to transform neighborhood.
Milwaukee citizens of all ages, some younger than 10-years-old, grabbed pairs of scissors to participate in the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Friday’s grand opening of the Innovation & Wellness Commons at 1615 W. North Ave. The new facility is part of an ongoing effort to bring more life to the Lindsay Heights community by the non-profit neighborhood organization Walnut Way Conservation Corp. The organization partnered with Juli Kaufmann, of Fix Development, to develop the building.
Walnut Way, founded by Lindsay Heights residents in 2000, has been working to improve the area through a policy of “reclaim, restore, repurpose.” Even their headquarters, a former drug house built in 1910, has been fully renovated and is now an active center for citizens to participate in community development projects.
“An abandoned lot is an opportunity for development,” said Sharon Adams, director of programs and co-founder of Walnut Way, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
While Walnut Way has taken on many housing projects, The Innovation & Wellness Commons marks the organization’s first commercial project. The building originally functioned as a bowling alley and tavern that was built by Louis Jenz in 1906. During the renovation process, a wall was discovered with the name “Louis Jenz” on it. Through social media, Adams connected with the Jenz family, and the family was eager to be involved with the effort to restore the building and its history.
“We all have history in us, and if we’re not careful about the places we build, we lose and disconnect to our history,” said Adams.
The Commons is divided into four separate tenants. A smaller version of an Outpost Natural Foods, more closely resembling a convenience store, and The Juice Kitchen, a new retail operation written about here, make up the first story of the building. Above, The Milwaukee Center for Independence, a commercial kitchen, operates next to a branch of the Fondy Food Center.
The Commons plans to bring more than 45 jobs and $6 million in direct investment to the Lindsay Heights neighborhood. It will also offer a healthier alternative to fast food joints in the area, with Outpost serving all natural foods and The Juice Kitchen blending up healthy drinks. The Milwaukee Center for Independence prepares healthy meals for schools and also provides job training.
Mayor Tom Barrett was present at the Grand Opening and spoke highly of the Adams family and the efforts they have been putting into the community for the past 14 years.
“From time to time people say ‘where do you get the energy with all the challenges that you have in the city’ and my answer is ‘I get my energy from the incredible people in the city who are fighting back,’” Barrett said. “At the top of that list, I put Sharon and Larry Adams.”
The Innovation & Wellness Commons is only phase one of the Walnut Way’s plan to reinvigorate the community. Phase two, which is planned to take effect sometime next year, will involve the empty parking lot next to the Wellness Commons. The goal is to create a space that will house tenants and programming dedicated to health, education, wellness and social engagement that will be easily accessible for Lindsay Heights residents.
“This neighborhood is fighting back and it’s starting to go in the right direction,” Barrett said. “The Walnut Way is becoming the ‘Milwaukee Way’.”