Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Walnut Way Cuts Ribbon on Wellness Commons

Announcing Phase 2 of facility that will be community hub for Lindsay Heights.

By - Dec 9th, 2020 03:39 pm
Innovations and Wellness Commons on W. North Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Innovations and Wellness Commons on W. North Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

“This is awesome. This is great. And this is going to further catalyze our work,” said Antonio Butts, executive director of the Walnut Way Conservation Corp., after cutting the ribbon on the second phase of the organization’s Innovations and Wellness Commons.

But Butts said what they’ve done is more than construct another building.

“We are providing space for culturally relevant wellness and health services for residents, accelerating entrepreneurs in the health and wellness sectors, and spurring pathways for employment in the healthcare sector,” said Butts. “This is really about resident power and development and equity.”

The $3.3 million project is intended to uplift the residents of the Lindsay Heights neighborhood that Walnut Way serves.

Located at 1609 W. North Ave., the new 5,470-square-foot facility builds on the 11,000-square-foot first phase.

The second phase, which includes a 2,000-square-foot, second-story deck, will be completed in early January. Tenants include the Milwaukee Area Health Education Center (Milwaukee AHEC), United Neighborhood Centers of Milwaukee (UNCOM), Benedict Center‘s Sisters Program, Milwaukee School of Engineering‘s Scholars Program, nutritionist Bridgett Wilder and licensed counselor Marrika Rodgers.

The Benedict Center will use its space in the building to provide support for women involved in sex work. “The IWC building is the ideal location to meet women where they are,” said executive director Jeanne Geraci.

UNCOM’s leading program will be to connect out-of-school youth with employment. “We will be welcoming the community into our space to fill any needs they may have,” said Renee Logee, ticking off a list of existing partnerships the organization has in the neighborhood.

Milwaukee AHEC connects individuals with careers in health care. “This will be a satellite [site] for our community health worker training,” said executive director Azure De Williams.

Rodgers will provide a range of counseling services and therapy for individuals, families and groups.

The first phase of Wellness Commons includes a commercial kitchen operated by Milwaukee Center for Independence, offices for the Fondy Food Center, Walnut Way’s Designaway apparel printing service and, starting in 2021, a new cafe known as Taste of Lindsay Heights.

The organization had sought to develop the center for over a decade, with the first phase opening in 2015. Its headquarters is located just west of the facility on N. 17th St.

“I remember vividly [Walnut Way founder Sharon Adams] saying, ‘the last thing we need on this corner is another fast food restaurant’,” said Bob Arzbaecher, a longtime backer of the organization.

“We didn’t slip, but we ran into some roadblocks,” said board president LaVonda Graham, a resident of the neighborhood for over a half-century.

“The work is grueling. It takes patience and we see it every day at Walnut Way,” said Gina Stilp, executive director of the Zilber Family Foundation. The foundation is one of the project’s major funders.

Why cut a ribbon on a building that wasn’t finished? Because Butts had $350,000 worth of good news to announce. An anonymous donor contributed that amount through the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. “We wanted this project to be debt free for it to be truly sustainable,” Butts said, and the donation has helped them meet this goal.

The Bradley Foundation, as well as a host of other organizations,  provided financial support for the wellness project.

The building is being designed by Mayer-Helminiak Architects and constructed by JCP Construction. Emem Group is serving as the owner’s representative.

Butts teased the organization’s next project during the ceremony. Blue Skies Landscaping, a social enterprise run by Walnut Way, will receive its own headquarters. Blue Skies has been involved in a number of neighborhood projects in recent years, including installing solar infrastructure on the Wellness Commons.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony was largely virtual as a result of the pandemic. Members of the media and project stakeholders gathered in what will be the building’s parking lot while most people watched remotely.

Ceremony Photos


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