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State of the City Address


There is still much work to be done in Milwaukee, but we are growing. Growing Milwaukee is our goal. Attracting new residents and jobs is one of our city's greatest advantages. As we continue to grow, Milwaukee’s story of innovation and opportunity will be known across the country. By working together, we can continue to enhance the great attributes of our city and make it more vibrant. We have a welcoming spirit and a tradition of newcomers who choose to build their future here.

2024 State of the City Gallery

20024 State of the City

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State of the City Address


Thank you for the welcome; thank you, Frances and Lamont.  And a special thanks to all the owners, the employee owners, of Western Building Products. This company is bringing on new employees, expanding its customer numbers, and it’s growing – growing in Milwaukee – and that is certainly something to celebrate.

Several years ago, when Western Building Products expressed an interest in this location for its new home, the City of Milwaukee worked with company leaders to make it happen.  We jumped at the opportunity to support job growth, to increase the city’s tax base, and to bring this long-underutilized, city-owned property to life.

With Tax Incremental Financing, we made an investment to help bring water and sewer service to the site.  There was little risk to taxpayers, and good benefits for the entire city. Local small businesses and city residents who were unemployed or under-employed worked on the project.  Tax Incremental District number ninety-nine is paying off quickly, and, in the not-too-distant future, this building will add to our total tax base which is good for everyone.

I am a huge proponent of growth.  I call the effort Growing Milwaukee.  I want our city to attract new jobs and new residents.  I want Milwaukee’s story of innovation and opportunity to be known across the country.

I want to add to the great attributes of our city and continue to increase our vibrancy.

I’ve set an ambitious goal – to grow our population to one million Milwaukeeans.  That will take some time, but my administration is laying the groundwork.

We already have a welcoming spirit and a tradition of newcomers who choose to build their future here.  Now, the planning division at the Department of City Development is developing Growing MKE proposals. 

They will propose amendments to the City’s Comprehensive Plan with a focus on housing choice and growth. We can encourage more walkable neighborhoods and increase the variety of housing choices. 

We can reduce barriers to new development and, at the same time, make progress on our sustainability and affordability goals.

There is more to growing our city than land use and housing plans.  We must be sure we provide the municipal services Milwaukee will need.  We took an enormous step forward less than nine months ago with bipartisan support from the state legislature and Governor Tony Evers.  Wisconsin Act 12 has provided some financial stability to city budgets with sustainable revenue.

Now, to be clear, Milwaukee is not, suddenly, flush with cash.  We have tight budgets now and into the future.  What we have done is avoid the fiscal disaster that was looming over City Hall.

Another important legislative achievement occurred just three months ago when the future of our Major League Baseball team was secured for decades with a revised stadium funding bill.  The Brewers will remain the Milwaukee Brewers for at least a quarter-century and beyond.

The city’s obligation in the stadium funding arrangement will be met without a new tax and without cutting city services. That took some imagination and creativity – redirecting administrative fees already collected locally.  What we accomplished is great for residents and taxpayers, sustaining the attention and enjoyment professional sports bring our city.

High school, college, and professional sports add a lot to our quality of life.  We can applaud and celebrate the success of our sports teams, and this year, there has been plenty to cheer about, particularly on the basketball court at Fiserv Forum.  How about the Marquette Golden Eagle men’s basketball team?  And our Milwaukee Bucks are solidly positioned for a championship run.

Speaking of the Bucks, we lost an iconic Milwaukee public figure at the end of December.  Herb Kohl singlehandedly kept the team in Milwaukee by buying the Bucks in the mid-1980s and again about ten years ago when he sold the team to new owners.  But that was hardly his only major accomplishment.  Herb was a business leader and a well-respected United States Senator.  He was also a great philanthropist. 

And, throughout his life, he showed consistent humility. Herb was, truly, a big shot, but he never acted like one. Herb Kohl was a great Milwaukeean. Thank you, Senator Kohl.

There are lots of reasons to be proud of the state of our city.  Investors are investing, employers are hiring, and more businesses are choosing to locate here in Milwaukee.

Employment numbers are strong, and that means jobs, particularly family-supporting jobs, are available.  That’s good news all across the city.

Construction is underway on big projects and smaller projects.  At 60th Street and Green Tree Road, housing for veterans in tiny homes is moving forward.  In the center of Milwaukee, large residential towers are nearing completion.

Across the street from Vel Phillips Plaza, Fiserv has finished its headquarters buildout. Starting today, employees of this Fortune 500 company are moving in. The company has deep roots in the region, it’s been an active participant in civic life here, and its technologies touch us all as it moves money for businesses and consumers.  At eleven o’clock this morning I will join Fiserv leaders as we cut the ribbon to formally open the global headquarters.

Traditionally, the City of Milwaukee has participated in significant projects that add jobs, improve public amenities, and address pressing social needs. We have used tools that contribute financially, and we have accommodated changes to our zoning when those make sense. It’s an approach that, frankly, hasn’t changed much over decades.  Over the past several months, I have directed city departments to take a new look at the work we do to foster development.  I am pleased to share that we are adding to our toolbox and imagining what’s possible.  It’s all part of growing Milwaukee.

I want to highlight one area of our economy where we have great growth potential.  Our convention center, the Baird Center, is doubling in size.  Later this spring, we will celebrate the expansion – and the work Milwaukee residents and small businesses have done to bring the project to completion.

We are launching a new era for our city’s hospitality and tourism industry.  The Baird Center is projected to attract an additional 100-thousand out-of-state visitors to Milwaukee each year. That means more jobs and more economic impact for city residents. With the expanded convention capacity, we are affirming the economic impact – and bright future – for our travel and hospitality sector. 

Visit Milwaukee has been a great leader in attracting people to our city.  The organization works to project the best of Milwaukee.  And, they are about to roll out a rejuvenated new brand. More than just a new logo, Visit Milwaukee is focusing on what sets Milwaukee apart: we are fresh, flavorful and forward. It is a celebration of who we are, a celebration of our diversity, and an invitation to come to Milwaukee.  There is a great story to tell about Milwaukee, and I am set to be our city’s most vocal promoter.

Milwaukee is ready to host big trade shows, large membership organizations, and huge sports and entertainment extravaganzas. I want Milwaukee to be a destination for people from all over.

We will see some of those new visitors in July when the Republican National Convention comes to Milwaukee.  Tens-of-thousands of people, delegates, media and others will be here.  They will spend money and bring attention to Milwaukee in a way, I anticipate, will bring more big events to Milwaukee in the future.

To be crystal clear, I endorse neither the GOP party platform nor the leading candidate.  But, I very much embrace the positive economic impact the Republican National Convention will bring Milwaukee.  Our hotels will be full, our restaurants will serve lots of out-of-towners, and hardworking hospitality workers, our fellow Milwaukeeans, will take home some extra money.

In preparation for July’s political convention, we are planning and prioritizing safety. Multiple city agencies, including our police and fire departments, are making sure they have the resources and the people they need to manage any eventuality. 

We are seeking $75-million in federal money to fully fund our safety plans. Just yesterday, Senator Tammy Baldwin informed me of a major step forward when that funding was included in pending legislation. I encourage Congress to finalize that safety money.

We are working closely with event organizers and with the United States Secret Service so that everyone is safe.  We are also making sure demonstrators have an opportunity to voice their opinions the way the First Amendment empowers them to do.

I have no higher priority than making sure Milwaukee is as safe as possible, not just for big events, but every day and in every neighborhood.  Citywide crime trends continue to improve. What the FBI calls Part 1 Crime was down nine percent last year compared to the previous year.  That built on the 2022 decline of fifteen percent.   

We are seeing continuing positive trends. Two months into 2024, we are seeing even more crime reduction when compared to this time last year. Most Part 1 categories of crime are down by double-digit percentages. Also, non-fatal shootings and carjackings are both down by 25% this year. We are a safer city, and we continue to head in the right direction.

This is about much more than numbers – crime hurts our residents, our neighborhoods, and our economy. I want everyone to feel safe and for crime to be rare.  I want fewer victims of property crime and fewer victims of violent crimes.  That’s why I focus so much of my attention on increasing safety.

While there are lots of factors that go into making Milwaukee safer, our work, fundamentally, comes down to two approaches – accountability and prevention.

We must make sure people who commit crimes are identified and brought to justice.  Consequences should be appropriate and timely.  We are adding police officers and working with prosecutors and courts to make sure accountability is achieved.

At the same time, we are working with young people so they make better choices in life.  We have reorganized our crime prevention and intervention team into the Office of Community Wellness and Safety to increase outreach and effectiveness.  And, we are building a stronger economy so that young people see positive opportunity ahead.

More must be done to get guns out of the hands of people who should not have them.  Sometimes it’s a felon who illegally brandishes a handgun, or a teenager who uses a firearm to settle a dispute, or a young child who grabs a parent’s unsecured weapon and kills.  None of these people should touch a firearm.  State and Federal legislators must do more to protect people from gun violence.

If we are to Grow Milwaukee in the way I envision, we must be safe – and people must feel safe whether it’s in their neighborhoods, at their workplaces, or when they are enjoying all Milwaukee has to offer.  We must continue to drive down crime and drive down violence.

Public safety encompasses much more than crime reduction.  I have directed departments throughout city government to act to reduce the scourge of reckless driving.  Police are enforcing the laws; various agencies are involved in driver education; and, most prominently, we are reconfiguring roadways.  In 2024, forty-five traffic calming projects will be underway all across the city.  We are restricting the ability to pass on right with lane narrowing, we are making it safer for pedestrians to cross the street, and we are adding protected bike lanes.

We have assembled multiple funding sources for traffic safety projects, notably American Rescue Plan Act money.  You will see those funds deployed this year in projects such as the Safe Routes to School program, making it safer for students at eighteen different schools. I am grateful to President Joe Biden and his administration for those resources.

Look, traffic calming works.  It reduces reckless driving.  That’s more than just conjecture; we have the numbers to show it.

We are a Vision Zero city, aiming for zero traffic deaths.  It’s another ambitious objective, but one which we enthusiastically embrace.

There are multiple other ways in which the city is improving public safety. Over the past fourteen months, the Milwaukee Fire Department reopened two previously shuttered firehouses. And we have launched a new dispatch technology so that people needing emergency service can get the best response as promptly as possible.

Our greatest public safety champions are the people of Milwaukee.  When they step up, good things happen.  We team up with groups of residents who organize as part of our Alert Neighbor program for specially tailored public safety improvements.  We work to make sure homes have lifesaving smoke detectors. 

We are improving relationships so that our police get the best possible cooperation in solving crime. 

As I have said frequently, everyone can play a role in making our city safer.

The Milwaukee Health Department continues its work to protect children from the damaging legacy of lead paint in our city.  The department is actively broadening its collaborations, partnering with hospital systems to expand childhood lead screening. The Health Department is working with Children’s Wisconsin to improve lead case management. The department is reducing lead hazards in homes with a $5.7 million grant from the federal government, an effort that will make hundreds of Milwaukee homes safer.  Using American Rescue Plan Act funds, in partnership with community stakeholders, another 400 homes will have lead hazards abated over the next two years.

In addressing lead, one of the most significant changes over the past year is our acceleration of replacing lead service lines that bring drinking water into homes.  Last year I announced a shortened timeline for replacing lead laterals, now, with new federal resources, we are aiming to replace all the city’s lead service lines in the next ten years.  We have made it easier for city residents, too, by eliminating the cost for qualifying homeowners.

We have prioritized lead service line replacement in neighborhoods that have the greatest need.  We are inviting affected residents to local meetings when work is planned in their neighborhoods.  And, the city is adding to transparency with a new website, milwaukee.gov/leadpipes, where people can track the lead pipe replacement work and get good information about precautions.

I believe libraries play a critical role in the lives of people all across Milwaukee, improving literacy and learning and providing resources that are not available elsewhere.  Yes, I believe in this city's continued investment in a strong and connected library network.

You can see the framework rising on the Milwaukee Public Library’s new Martin Luther King Branch at the corner of Locust Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive.  The redevelopment is targeted for completion early next year.  That’s when library users will see a new, 18-thousand square foot facility with flexible-use community rooms, a makerspace, improved access to technology, new furnishings, and an updated and refreshed presentation of library materials and resources. It will be among the greenest libraries in the state, with geothermal heating and cooling along with solar panels.

The project also, in a way, is part of Growing Milwaukee.  The MLK Library project includes 93 affordable housing units whose construction is supported with city tax incremental funds along with Housing Trust Funds – totaling nearly two-and-a-half- million dollars.

We are investing in affordable housing, often with tax incremental financing, sometimes with other funds.  In fact, over the past five years the city has played a significant financial role in at least nineteen projects creating nearly 18-hundred new, affordable Milwaukee homes.

I want to highlight another city effort that is creating homes for families.  Homes MKE brings $ 15 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to convert city-owned, tax-foreclosed properties into fully rehabilitated new residences. This is good news in three different ways; First, we are returning troubled properties to new ownership and productive use; second, we are easing the costly burden foreclosed properties impose on city budgets; and, third, we are using Homes MKE to help emerging developers and construction teams establish themselves.  By the time Homes MKE is complete, about 120 homes will be back in private hands, back on the tax rolls, and, once again, they will be places for Milwaukee families to make their homes. It’s another step forward in Growing Milwaukee.

 The Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee is a major provider of homes for residents here. Thousands of people rely on it. The Authority has faced some very real challenges over the past several years, navigating the pandemic and managing through very significant budget challenges.  I am keeping a close eye on the agency, and staying in touch with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as the Housing Authority addresses the problems.  They are headed in the right direction, and I have confidence in the agency’s leadership.

The city government is moving forward on a program I first talked about last fall. Raze and Revive aims to tackle neighborhood blight by taking down houses that are beyond repair.  We are investing nearly 5 million dollars this year – deploying both city and private crews to raze 180 problem structures. So far, dozens of buildings have come down.

I have directed city departments to prioritize the “revive” portion of Raze and Revive.  I want more than vacant lots.  I want neighborhood assets instead.

No one willingly accepts a dilapidated house on their block.  No one should have to endure the potential dangers and criminal activity drawn to buildings that are beyond repair. Following the housing crisis that began more than a decade ago, Milwaukee faced a growing number of homes needing demolition.  Raze and Revive aims to get rid of that backlog in the coming years. 

Speaking of demolition, we have made progress in our work to eliminate a major blight – and significant danger – that has plagued a neighborhood not too far from here.  The former Northridge Mall is, finally, owned and controlled by the City of Milwaukee.

We are securing the location with the intent to stop the trespassing and vandalism.  And we are proceeding with bringing the structure down and clearing the site. I am grateful to Governor Tony Evers, who has directed significant American Rescue Plan Act money toward the Northridge demolition.

As we develop plans for the future of Northridge, we acknowledge the great potential that exists here. What was a danger is now an asset.  What was a drain on the area is now an opportunity.  We will work with neighbors, area businesses, and others interested in Northridge’s future to map out what’s next.

At my direction, city government is working hard to increase sustainability efforts.  We all have an obligation to act responsibly, reduce our climate impacts, and invest in our future.  The Environmental Collaboration Office is actively implementing the city’s Climate and Equity plan with transportation improvements, building upgrades, and increased carbon-friendly electricity.  We also look to a future with more green jobs for our families and neighborhoods that will benefit the most.

Here’s an example of one sustainability project.  Milwaukee’s Department of Public Works has made significant progress on our Bright Line streetlighting project.  We are converting older, less efficient street lights with LED lights, reducing energy use and increasing public safety with illumination.  Most streetlights can be modified this way, some 45-thousand lights, and we have already converted more than 70-percent of those. For streetlights that run on antiquated circuits, we continue to work on upgrades.

Good lighting improves the pedestrian experience.  It makes stroller pushing, scooter riding and bicycling more appealing.  And there is more work underway to diversify our transportation options.

We’re making great progress with the effort to add 50 miles of bikeways and protected bike lanes all across the city.  I want Milwaukee to be celebrated for its bike-friendliness. I want everyone to have transportation choices that are both convenient and climate-friendly.

Yes, public transportation is a big part of that.  Milwaukee County’s bus system is a great choice for many.  Milwaukee’s streetcar, the Hop, is used daily by hundreds of people – and it’s promoting investment and attracting new residents along the route.

Innovative approaches such as Flexride are connecting Milwaukee residents directly to jobs where public transportation is not a convenient choice.  Using on-call vans, Flexride makes sure connections are available to get city workers to good jobs – in fact, there are Flexride users who work right here at Western Building Products.

Several elected city officials have chosen not to seek reelection this spring.  I acknowledge the work all of them have done, and I want to call out two in particular.

Aycha Sawa has served the city for almost fourteen years – the past four as our Comptroller.  Aycha has performed admirably in that role, and I wish her the best in her next endeavor. Thank you, Aycha.

Michael Murphy has served his west side constituents longer than any of his aldermanic colleagues – about thirty-five years.  In that time, he has taken on complex issues – seeking outcomes that improve life for people throughout Milwaukee. Housing, health, parks, crime, and substance use disorder – Michael has been a leader on all these topics.  His legacy is a city that is better, stronger, and safer.  Michael, my friend, thank you.

In 2024, the State of the City is excellent.  Of course, we have challenges, but I join people throughout the city to address those challenges.  I am unequivocally confident we are making solid progress.

Yes, I am a champion for growing Milwaukee, adding energy and activity to Milwaukee.  I want more investment, more jobs, and more people – artists and entrepreneurs; intellectuals and athletes; I want investors, dreamers, and hardworking people who want to shape their future here.

I am imagining what’s possible for Milwaukee.  We will be a city that builds on our existing culture, that adds to our economic strength, and redefines ourselves as a center of both innovation and quality of life.

Milwaukee has so much in its favor – and so much in its future.

Thank you.

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