by Erik Peterson On July 27, Robert Klavetter introduced himself to me at the grand opening of my Acme Art Gallery. He invited me to attend a meeting of owners on East Center Street who were concerned with the future of their business district –and concerned with the city’s planned street rehabilitation project. The project was to begin in March 2002 and leave little or no room for decorative lighting, landscaping, or quality improvements. So the group of property owners was exploring the idea of proposing a Business Improvement District (BID). The BID would use city bonds against future tax increases to pay for improvements today. In the following 2 weeks, I moved into my new home at the intersection of Center and Holton streets and attended Klavetter’s meeting. About 30 people attended, plus 4 city employees. Now, six months later, I have begun writing a proposed Business Improvement District plan for East Center Street between Holton and the river. This stretch covers the portion of East Center Street that lies in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood. Tess Reiss, formerly of YMCA CDC-Riverwest, assisted between September and January in holding meetings, pamphleting Center Street, and gathering information from the property owners. Our group has met at least twice a month since September. More recently, Klavetter and Alderwoman Johnson-Odom have been searching for grant money to pay for the addition of supplemental, decorative lighting for East Center Street. Johnson-Odom is also negotiating with Milwaukee Public Schools to improve the appearance of the Pierce Street School. Don Sargent of NMIDC (Northeast Milwaukee Industrial Development Corporation) has assisted me with the paperwork which kicked off the beginning of the BID proposal. With his help, we will be able to present the proposal to the property owners of Center Street within a matter of weeks. Alderman D’Amato has attended our meetings and put me in touch with city engineer Jeff Polenske, who is planning the street rehabilitation for March. Others who have been actively involved with this project include YMCA CDC-Riverwest staff, Robert Klavetter, Maggie Robinson, Brewery Credit Union, Steve Johnson, John Reubartsch, Paul Onopa, Ken Larson, and Ballistreri’s. When the BID proposal is finished, it will be refined through the BID Board of Directors. The Board of Directors will be composed of commercial property owners in the BID district. They will decide how much money to tax themselves and how to spend the money. BIDs have proven successful not only in improving the quality of business in a neighborhood, but also in improving safety, quality of life, and a sense of community and belonging. With the diversity, uniqueness, and artistic talent that Riverwest has to offer, our Business Improvement District will be unlike any seen before.
by Erik Peterson