Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

UniteMKE Plans Restaurant, HQ on North Ave.

Wood Fire Pizza and Wine would have job training and social mission.

By - Sep 20th, 2019 10:34 am
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2501-03 W. North Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

2501-03 W. North Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

A classroom project could result in new life for a vacant building in the city’s Midtown neighborhood.

Bria Grant, executive director of health and wellness non-profit UniteMKE, is seeking to purchase and redevelop the city-owned, two-story building at 2501-03 W. North Ave.

The 5,144-square-foot building’s first floor would be redeveloped into a restaurant, Wood Fire Pizza and Wine according to a city report, and office space for UniteMKE. The upper floor would house two apartments according to a Department of City Development report.

“Part of UniteMKE’s work is building community,” said Grant in an appearance before the Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee to secure an exclusive right to negotiate to purchase the property. “From the beginning of the project we intend to incorporate workforce development as it relates to construction.”

But the family-style restaurant would have an even bigger community-building component. Employees at the restaurant would be given culinary and soft skills training intended as a launch pad for future employment. “We hope that creates a strong pipeline to support greater employment opportunities for individuals in Milwaukee,” said Grant. The effort is similar to another nearby restaurant, The Tandem, at 1848 W. Fond du Lac Ave.

The apartments would serve as homes for clients UniteMKE works with, including at-risk homeless women. Founded in 2016 by Grant, the organization coordinates the work of community health workers to provide at-risk populations with physical and behavioral health and social services. Grant’s work with the organization has already landed her a position on the newly-formed Board of Health that oversees the Milwaukee Health Department.

“It’s great to see it go from a class assignment to a real project,” said Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs. Grant, an African American, first studied the idea as part of her classwork with the Associates in Commercial Real Estate (ACRE) program designed to train women and minorities for careers in real estate. A 2017 graduate of the program, Grant joins a growing list of developers and executives that have benefitted from the program, including developer Brandon Rule who presented at the same meeting and Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority executive director Joaquin Altoro.

“Congratulations to Ms. Grant,” said Alderman Russell W. Stamper, II in whose district the project would be developed. “I am happy to support her first development.” The city acquired the site in property tax foreclosure in 2007.

Grant intends to invest approximately $500,000 in redeveloping the property and a vacant, 4,720-square-foot lot located immediately west of the building.

The committee unanimously approved the exclusive right to negotiate for Grant. The agreement is in effect until December 31st with one three-month extension possible.

Grant must still secure financing for the development. Willie Smith, director of lending for the Northwest Side Community Development Corporation, joined Grant at the hearing and is supporting Grant in the effort. A city report states Grant is also working with the St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care, located across the street from the proposed project, and Brad Thurman of Coffee Makes You Black.

A two-car brick garage, located behind the building and currently surrounded by illegal dumping (reported, case number 101002904769), would also be improved as part of the project.

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