Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Crump Wins Committee Support to Head DCD

New commissioner would serve in one of most visible, influential administration roles.

By - Jun 30th, 2020 05:04 pm
Lafayette Crump addresses the Milwaukee Common Council. Image from City Channel - City Clerk's Office.

Lafayette Crump addresses the Milwaukee Common Council. File photo from City Channel – City Clerk’s Office.

Members of the Common Council gave their first endorsement for Lafayette Crump to serve as the new commissioner of the Department of City Development.

The Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee voted unanimously to recommend approval of Crump’s appointment on Tuesday morning after nearly two hours asking Crump a wide range of questions on economic development, transportation, racial equity and tax incentives. The virtual meeting was important enough that several council members who don’t sit on the committee participated.

Crump was appointed in late May by Mayor Tom Barrett to replace long-time commissioner Rocky Marcoux, who is retiring after 16 years in the role. The commissioner manages the Department of City Development, serves as de-facto city planner and leads the implementation of most city economic development policies.

In answers to questions and his opening remarks, Crump repeatedly touched on two areas he is focused on: racial equity and economic development beyond Downtown.

“My plan is not to come in here and blow up what DCD has done… but to expand what is done and to look at new models,” he said.

His focus beyond Downtown comes after council members have repeatedly called for more investment in other areas of the city, as a thriving real estate market and a series of megaprojects, including a new arena that Crump served as a hiring consultant on, created a downtown construction boom.

“I think we are really at a moment where the focus can now shift and we can support our neighborhoods more,” said Alderwoman Chantia Lewis. “I get that you have to build up the heart to build up the body.” She represents an area that includes the former Northridge Mall, the redevelopment of which is one of the city’s biggest looming projects.

“When we hear Downtown versus the neighborhoods, people sometimes think of that as business versus residential,” said Crump in response to a question from Ald. Nik Kovac. But Crump said it’s more than that, that Downtown is a place thriving with residential and commercial development. “We need to have a larger focus than we have had on creating job opportunities beyond Downtown.”

He noted in his opening remarks this his vision is to help foster an inclusive city that can attract businesses. “When we make this a place that young people know they will have successful futures in, companies will want to be here,” he said.

Crump, who is Black and most recently served as the deputy chief of staff and chief diversity, vendor and engagement officer for the Milwaukee 2020 Democratic National Convention host committee, didn’t shy away from discussing race.

“We are sometimes hamstrung by racially-neutral policies,” he said. “We are not a race-neutral country. So even a policy that purports to be race neutral does not end up being race neutral.”

The appointee has had a front-row seat to implementation of the city’s race-neutral hiring requirement imposed through the Residents Preference Program (RPP) in his role monitoring compliance with participating firms.

The program requires real estate projects that receive $1 million or more in city funding to have 40 percent of the construction work hours performed by unemployed or underemployed city residents, regardless of their race. Data from projects like Fiserv Forum or Northwestern Mutual Tower shows that residents come from all over the city, including large numbers from some of the city’s majority-white ZIP codes.

Crump, a Duke Law School graduate, has worked at Prism Technical Group as chief operating officer since 2004. The company is owned by his parents, Randy and Joann Crump, and has been involved in structuring and monitoring compliance with resident hiring and contract requirements. He’s regularly presented compliance updates on projects to the council.

“We need to have a thriving community of diverse people who do all of those things,” said Crump of the various components of real estate development. “We can’t just say ‘well once we get to painting the building we’ll look at the impact this project is going to have on Black people or once we get to doing the masonry we’ll look at the impact this project going to have on Latinx people.’ It’s something we have to do from the very beginning and I promise you that I will.”

What are the right levels for RPP participation and contracting requirements? “We need to aspire to goals that mirror the population of our city,” he said.

In response to Alderwoman Milele A. Coggsquestion of what do about the cluster of city-owned foreclosed homes in three majority Black aldermanic districts, Crump said the city must do a better job marketing its existing solutions and be intentional about finding solutions, including allocating more resources towards the issue.

A pending disparity study could give DCD and the council the basis to adjust RPP and other city programs to have racial makeup components.

Crump said the result could create more competitive minority-owned firms that would compete on a level playing field, expanding the benefit to the city as a whole and beyond just projects receiving city funding. “The numbers are terrible frankly for Milwaukee versus other cities in the country,” said Crump of the number of Black-owned businesses. “I struggle to talk about how important this is because it’s so obvious to me.”

Ald. Ashanti Hamilton, who noted he was a middle school classmate of Crump, said the RPP program and others were important and the city needed to find ways to expand them.

Crump said he intends to explore broader use of tax incremental financing districts to support housing and other developments across the city. Marcoux had loosened DCD’s stance on the use of TIF districts in recent years, which resulted in substantial debate around the One MKE Plaza project and a City Comptroller report that cast doubt on the project’s ability to repay its debt.

“You do not want to TIF a project that you don’t expect to succeed, but what we can do is be a little more willing to take risks on some TIF funding,” said Crump. “Obviously we have got constraints when it comes to TIF funding, but I do want to be more aggressive in how we do that.” He explained that his vision includes ensuring Downtown can be healthy and inclusive, but also looking to create TIF districts to fund development beyond the city center.

Ald. Robert Bauman questioned Crump not on his role as DCD Commissioner, but another job he’ll inherit, executive director of the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee. Council members, including Bauman, have recently expressed frustration that TIF districts must originate with the authority, not from the council. “Will you initiate tax incremental financing requests at council request even if you do not agree with the transaction?” asked Bauman, saying it was a yes or no question.

“Unfortunately I can’t say I know enough about that at this moment to agree to that,” said Crump.

Bauman also pushed Crump on his lack of urban planning or architecture experience or training, but called his resume “impressive.”

“Maybe I’m missing something,” said Bauman.

Crump is a graduate of the Associates in Commercial Real Estate (ACRE) program designed to train women and minorities for careers in real estate. He said he received approximately 160 hours of training from the National Development Center’s economic development and finance program to support his work with the African-American Chamber of Commerce in putting together loan packages.

“I’m surprised you didn’t put that on your resume,” said Bauman. “It’s tucked in there somewhere,” replied Crump.

Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic asked Crump his thoughts on transportation and parking. “Too often neighborhood development depends on that question of congestion,” said Dimitrijevic, adding that people were “addicted to cars.”

“I agree that it’s crucial that we look at other options,” said Crump. “That we do not just look at how people are going to get to places by car and where are they going to park. That will keep us stuck with regards to development.”

“Developers love certainty,” said Crump. “When you have fixed rail transit you have a great deal of certainty.” Marcoux was one of The Hop’s biggest champions within City Hall, and Dimitrijevic has been explicit in her desire to see the streetcar extended south to Bay View from Downtown.

Coggs asked Crump how the prospective commissioner could promote mobility and equity from within the department.

He said it starts with interns. “When you promote with an eye towards ensuring diversity you get better ideas,” said Crump.

Kovac asked Crump how he would approach integrating the council and community into the deal-making process. Crump said he would contact the local council member on any development deal before it reached a tipping point to serve “as a conduit to the public and also for institutional knowledge of what makes sense in that district.”

Committee chair Ald. Jose G. Perez pushed Crump to engage with council members and not let neighborhood plans lay dormant. Perez, a former DCD employee, has frequently sparred with Marcoux.

“It’s evident from many of your answers, very reassuring, that you really do get it,” said Ald. Scott Spiker.

The committee, which consists of Perez, Coggs, Hamilton, Bauman and Dimitrijevic, voted unanimously to endorse Crump’s appointment, although with Bauman excused because he had temporarily left the room.

Crump’s appointment will go before the full Common Council on July 7th.

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Related Legislation: File 200188

One thought on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Crump Wins Committee Support to Head DCD”

  1. blurondo says:

    “… Bauman … had temporarily left the room.”
    It would appear that he did vote – with his feet.

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