By Austin Greenberg
4th Dimension Sobriety Inc. (4D) is a sober-living nonprofit that uses several homes in Riverwest to house and help rehabilitate individuals who are recovering from addiction.
Fix Development LLC, is a real estate company whose projects include the property located at 500 E. Center St. the now-closed Cream City Hostel. The property is owned by a group of investors called RiverBee, LLC. Juli Kaufmann, founder and president of Fix Development, and an investor in and ‘managing member’ of RiverBee, announced in December 2020 that the property was switching to a co-housing model, and was looking for tenant businesses.
The pandemic forced Jason Gonzalez, founder, and executive director of 4D, to think more about how to sustain the nonprofit, but also, he was looking to grow the 4D project. Gonzalez was born and raised in Riverwest, and Kaufmann resides here, and though they were both either in or looking to enter basically the same business, the two were unaware of each other. They were unaware, that is, until spring of this year, when they were connected through another similarity of theirs – an affiliation with Pius XI Catholic High School (135 N. 76th St.).
Still, their initial connection was not about filling each other’s business needs. Gonzalez was simply looking for fundraising strategies. He is a graduate of, and former teacher and administrator at, Pius. He asked Angela Reilly, the Chief Advancement Officer at Pius, about his nonprofit, and she advised that he speak with two people: former Pius parent and current volunteer Linda Neff, and fellow Pius alum Kaufmann.
Gonzalez called them both. Neff is the Chief Philanthropy and Brand Strategy Officer at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, Inc. Gonzalez stated in a recent interview with Riverwest Currents that Neff agreed to help him right away, and continues to be an invaluable advisor.
When Gonzalez called Kaufmann with questions about fundraising strategies, she advised him that she does fundraise, but that her main area of expertise is real estate entrepreneurial work. Gonzalez told Kaufmann that he believed that’s why they were connected – that he was fundraising so that he could buy a building, and Kaufmann asked if he would have any interest in realizing his vision in Riverwest.
“And he [replied], ‘Of course! That’s where my business is now, and that’s where I want to be.’ And he told me his whole story about why in even more detail … and that was it, we were off to the races.”
Kaufmann said she toured Gonzalez through the former hostel either that day, or in the few days that followed. On the tour, Kaufmann said Gonzalez told her, of the building, ‘This is it.’
“It was meant to be,” said Kaufmann.
Despite the serendipities, however, there is still a bottom line. 4D needed to come up with $25,000 by May 5th, which was approximately a month away.
“I had never raised $500, let alone $25,000,” said Gonzalez. Neff assured him that they could do it, and advised him to put out a video appeal. Gonzalez made a video on his phone about 4D, and his vision and goals for it, with the appeal, and posted it to social media on April 5th. Many of the people he shared the video with are former students of his at Pius, as well as Messmer High School, where he also taught. Gonzalez said the video was then shared with a wider audience, and 4D exceeded their fundraising goal, which bought them the first six months rent at 500 E. Center. 4D ‘members’ began moving into the building in early May.
500 E. Center St. is a Neoclassical two-story building that was built in 1927 as Holton Street State Bank. The building has 8,000 square feet of space. What makes the site even more valuable in a fully developed urban area is the ample tree filled green space to the north of the building.
It has had various tenants over the years, but lay vacant from 2005 or 2006 until 2019, when RiverBee purchased the building. Renovation followed. And the grand opening of the Cream City Hostel, Riverbee’s first tenant opened its doors on June 23, 2019, Riverwest Currents July 2019. By St. Patty’s Day 2020 Covid-19 shut down the city and country.
This was billed as Milwaukee’s first hostel. Despite the dreams of the Hostel owners the project failed. Opening just before the pandemic hit was the worst time to open a low-price room rental with multiple beds per room, a hostel. The hostel closed in 2020.
The vast majority of RiverBee’s, nearly 50 investors, according to Kaufmann, live in Riverwest, Harambee and the East Side. The building sits on the border of the Riverwest and Harambee neighborhoods (Holton St.), hence the name. Full disclosure, Riverwest Currents publisher and editor Vince Bushell is one of the investors of RiverBee.
The 500 E. Center building has dormitory-style rooms and communal lavatory, kitchen, dining and living-room areas. At the moment, the 4D occupants are men, but the plan is to have women on one floor and men on the other. Gonzalez said 4D’s full occupancy of the building is 28 people.
Gonzalez’s and 4D’s board of directors’ fundraising goals for 4D are to first raise $36,000 by November 1st for maintenance and the next six months’ rent, and they have a long-term goal of raising $1.7 million to purchase and make improvements suitable for its new use to the property.
Gonzalez stated that the financials, however, are not his only concern. He indicated that some members of the Riverwest community expressed concern about a sober-living facility being located here. So aside from his primary concern of ensuring that 4D is a thriving community where people can come and recover, he believes it can also help dispel some misconceptions about sobriety/recovery, and reduce the stigma.
“It’s showcasing what sobriety actually looks like,” he said, “and being able to open up to the community with some of our hosting offerings.” Gonzalez said that some of 4D’s events, such as cookouts and concerts, which will be held in the new home’s backyard, will be open to the public.
Gonzalez is founder and CEO of 4th Dimension Recovery Center (1216 N. Prospect Ave.), which is a separate, for-profit counseling center with an on-staff physician and therapists who service all mental health issues. There is some coordination between the two 4Ds, for instance residents of the sober living nonprofit may undergo counseling at the Prospect Ave. location, but Gonzalez said that business rules prohibit the sharing of resources between the two companies.
As for the nonprofit 4D, the early returns of its new home appear to be positive, if the sentiments of Nick (as he preferred to be called), who said he has been staying there since May 30th, are representative of the group. He reported that he has stayed at other sober-living facilities, but that 4D is probably the nicest of them.
“I like the spiritual emphasis,” he said. “There is a focus on meditation, and more of a larger community, and it allows you space to grow on your own as well. It’s a good place to be.”
It may appear that Gonzalez stumbled across this opportunity, but the fact is that when it came, he was ready, and now his vision of a 4D that can really “shine in the community,” as he put it, may be beginning to materialize.