Rebirth of the Bronzeville Neighborhood
In 2000, then-Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist was the first to speak of a plan to reinvest in the Bronzeville neighborhood. The plan sought to revitalize the area with investment on West North Avenue between North 4th Street and North 7th Street. This new entertainment district would be anchored by America’s Black Holocaust Museum. The project stalled for years until current Mayor Tom Barrett revitalized the plan. About $3.6 million in funds were provided for numerous initiatives, redevelopments, commercial loans, grants, and street improvements. A tax incremental district was also formed to create pathways for residents to homeownership and home improvements.
The Bronzeville Cultural and Entertainment District - Redevelopment Plan was designed to attract and promote African-American arts, entertainment and culture. The plan aims to “improve the physical character of the commercial district and the surrounding residential neighborhood, create investment and employment opportunity, support tourism, and celebrate racial diversity”. Visioning sessions were hosted by America’s Black Holocaust Museum and facilitated by representatives from the City of Milwaukee and local stakeholders. These sessions, with input from the public, ensured that the future plans for the district revolved around cultural celebrations, safety/crime deterrents, commercial development, and community involvement.
In 2010, investment groups were exploring options in the neighborhood, incentivized by TIF money available for redevelopments. Encouraged by the momentum, on September 21 of that year the Milwaukee Common Council created the 7-person Bronzeville Advisory Committee to review and offer recommendations about future redevelopment proposals in the district. Alderwoman Milele Coggs spearheaded the creation of this committee and noted that future redevelopment projects should be, in her words, “in line with interests, desires and perspectives” of the community.
Major developments have occurred in the neighborhood in recent years. Since the Redevelopment Plan was released in 2005, the most substantial project came to fruition in 2017 with the redevelopment of the former Garfield Avenue School site into apartments and a new home for America’s Black Holocaust Museum. America’s Black Holocaust Museum was long understood to be an anchor institution in the community; however, closed and reinvented itself as an online museum in 2008. The new development not only ensures a physical presence for the Museum, but at least 30 units for low-income renters. The project received $1.4 million in City funds, including tax incremental financing and grants.
Pete’s Fruit Market, a recent grocer that opened in the neighborhood, is not only an example of commercial development, but powerful community organizing as well. The neighborhood was long identified as a food desert, with no fresh produce available to nearby residents. The site that Pete’s Fruit Market would come to occupy was initially slated to be a dollar store, which neighbors identified as unfitting for the community needs. Finally, five years after the dollar store tried to move in, a full grocer opened as Pete’s Fruit Market. The Market addresses a significant community need in fresh food options, and also economically helps the community with 75% of hires coming from the surrounding neighborhood.
Along with the commercial development, there have been substantial efforts to re-energize the cultural ambiance that Bronzeville was once known for. Every year, the City hosts a Bronzeville Week celebration that honors the neighborhood’s rich history of art and music, while looking to the future with entertainment and artistic displays. Restaurants, such as Garfield 502, are reminiscent of the neighborhood’s past, featuring blues and R&B musicians. The Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee is continuously acquiring properties in the neighborhood designated as blighted to be renovated or demolished, and the Bronzeville Advisory Committee is continuing to ensure that the Bronzeville neighborhood that became famous in the 20th century can have a lasting legacy.