Mayor Cavalier Johnson Announces Funding Proposal for Vel R. Phillips Plaza in Westown
More than $15 million in proposed tax incremental financing dollars would convert a portion of a long-underutilized parcel into a public space named in honor of the iconic Milwaukee political activist and civil rights leader featuring both civic and transit amenities
MILWAUKEE – Mayor Cavalier Johnson is announcing the proposed financing package for the construction of a new vibrant urban space that would honor a trailblazing Milwaukee leader and provide important civic and transit amenities in the Westown neighborhood.
The proposed plaza, to be named in honor of Milwaukee politician, attorney, jurist and civil rights activist Vel R. Phillips, will be situated south of Wisconsin Avenue between North 5th Street and North Vel R. Phillips Avenue. More than $15 million in proposed Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) dollars would convert a portion of this long-underutilized site into a public space, named in honor of Vel R. Phillips, that would bring new life and development to this key part of Westown.
“The City of Milwaukee is prepared to move forward on the Vel R. Phillips Plaza that will add to the positive momentum taking place in the Westown neighborhood, which is witnessing a string of exciting development, investment, and activity,” Mayor Cavalier Johnson said. “I am a strong supporter of gathering places and plazas. From economic development benefits and expanded public transit connections, to cultural and educational opportunities that are accessible for all, gathering places enhance the quality of life in our communities. As the nation recognizes and celebrates Women’s History Month, I am looking forward to this plaza honoring the legacy, activism, and public service of Vel R. Phillips, as well as providing a dynamic and active gathering place for the community to utilize and enjoy for years to come.”
Phillips is a trailblazing figure who left an indelible mark on Milwaukee history through her lifelong work as an attorney, jurist, politician and civil rights activist. She was both the first African American and first woman elected to the city’s Common Council, the first female judge in Milwaukee County and the first black judge in the state of Wisconsin. She was the first woman to hold the office of Secretary of State in Wisconsin and the first African American to win a statewide election. Up until her passing in April of 2018, Phillips was an active leader in pushing for social justice, education and equal opportunities for minorities in Milwaukee.
“On behalf of myself and my family, I extend our full approval and support for the Vel R. Phillips Plaza project. We are overjoyed,” said Michael Phillips, son of Vel R. Phillips. “We wish to thank Mayor Johnson and the Milwaukee Common Council for their efforts. And, if I may say, I can feel my mother’s blessing beaming down from above. Thank you!”
A proposed amendment to Tax Incremental District (TID) #48 (Park East Corridor Redevelopment) would provide $15,750,000 for the construction of the approximately 30,000 square foot plaza, a 2,900 square foot food/beverage retail space, a manicured garden, a flex space that could host farmers markets, food trucks or other community events, an informational kiosk, public art installations, and a station to accommodate Milwaukee County’s Bus-Rapid Transit Line. Updated renderings will be available in the near future.
“I applaud the City’s work to create this public space in honor of a true icon of our greater community, Vel R. Phillips,” said Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley. “Milwaukee County is investing in and building upon transportation infrastructure to expand mobility and spur economic activity throughout the County. I’m pleased to see this project come to fruition, as it aligns perfectly with Milwaukee County’s commitment to ensuring residents can take any mode of transport anywhere in the community in a safe, affordable, and efficient manner.”
The proposed TID amendment also includes $4.35 million for infrastructure and lighting improvements in the area and $500,000 for the Commercial Revitalization Grant Program that provides financial assistance to commercial property owners for building renovations and improvements. The Milwaukee Common Council, the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee (RACM) Board, and the Milwaukee Joint Review Board will consider the proposed TID amendment in the near future.
The project plan preserves over 50,000 square feet of space on the site for future development. The parcel’s proximity to numerous other Westown developments including Fiserv Forum and the Deer District, The Avenue and 3rd Street Market Hall, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the future global headquarters for Fiserv, Inc. and a new Kohl’s department store location at Hub 640, the Hilton, and improved connectivity provided by the future Vel R. Phillips plaza make for an attractive development opportunity in the heart of a fast-growing area of the city. The Department of City Development will soon reissue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for this key parcel in Downtown Milwaukee.
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