City to Host National Conference
Officials want to show off solutions to urban blight at Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference.
Milwaukee will play host to the Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference from May 15th – 17th. And while you might think the city is embarrassed to hold a conference on such issues as blight, officials here have actually long sought the event.
“Without question, one of the reasons we wanted to bring the conference to Milwaukee is that we believe we have many innovative approaches to highlight and to make sure a larger swath of America knows what’s going on here,” said Department of City Development Deputy Commissioner Martha Brown in an interview. Brown said she’s eager for the city to show off many of its large transformations, ranging from the Pabst and Schlitz breweries to the Menomonee Valley, as well as many of the more targeted efforts underway.
The “Why Milwaukee” section on the conference website doesn’t sugarcoat the issue: “The City of Milwaukee faces significant challenges related to vacant and abandoned properties as well as substandard rental properties – challenges that will feel relatable for many RVP attendees.” But it also praises the city and local leaders for “pioneering new interventions and revitalization strategies.”
Despite the name, the conference isn’t solely focused on vacant properties. “Beyond physical development, one of the focuses on the conference is how to deal with blight,” said Brown. Brown said city officials look forward to exchanging best practices with other cities and learning more about new code enforcement and regulatory techniques, including potential alternatives to boarding up windows.
Sessions at the conference will include presentations on demolition, land banking, historic preservation, financing rehab, property data management, housing regulation, equity efforts, placemaking and code enforcement.
The conference isn’t solely about brainstorming big ideas, but about carrying them out. “Several years ago we instituted a vacant lot sale program that allows adjacent property owners to buy a lot for $1,” said Brown. “This is the sort of idea that gets discussed at the conference. Not only the idea, but how to pull it off.”
Mobile sessions include up-close looks at Clarke Square, Washington Park, Lindsay Heights, the Menomonee Valley, The Brewery, Century City, Harambee, the Harbor District, the Milwaukee RiverWalk and Near West Side.
Local presenters include Brown, Clarke Square leader Ian Bautista, Strong Blocks founder Carl Quindel, Gorman & Co. exec Ted Matkom, Brewery project leader Dan McCarthy, developer Gary Grunau, the Valley director Corey Zetts, developer Juli Kaufmann, Harbor District representative Daniel Adams, Rep. Evan Goyke, assistant city attorney Gregg Hagopian, developer Rick Wiegand and King Drive BID director Deshea Agee. A number of other presenters round out the Milwaukee contingent, including DCD spokesperson Jeff Fleming who will present on dealing with the media and presumably how to field off-the-wall questions from reporters like me.
The conference is organized by the non-profit Center for Community Progress and held every 18 months. The conference has been held in Pittsburgh, Louisville, Cleveland, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Detroit and Baltimore.
Registration for the conference starts at $475. A discounted student rate is available for $150.
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