Medical College, Greater Milwaukee Foundation unveil priority areas, branding for new collaboration

As the Medical College of Wisconsin and Greater Milwaukee Foundation prepare to begin construction this fall for the planned redevelopment of the former Gimbels and Schuster’s department store in Milwaukee’s Halyard Park neighborhood into a community hub, the organizations have already begun making investments through the new collaboration.

Leaders of MCW, GMF and project developer Royal Capital Group gave an update Thursday on the progress of their partnership, now branded as ThriveOn Collaboration.

The groups first unveiled in March 2019 their plans for the $84.5 million redevelopment of the 470,000-square-foot former department store at 2153 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. It’s among several major real estate projects planned for the King Drive corridor.

Kevin Newell, president and CEO of Royal Capital Group, on Thursday said construction is expected to begin this fall, with full occupancy anticipated for the first quarter of 2022.

MCW and GMF leaders also announced the collaboration’s five priority areas for program development and investment will include: increasing the availability of safe and affordable housing, improving education outcomes by investing in early childhood education, increasing access to health and wellness facilities and healthy food options, building positive social and business relationships, and supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs.

The organizations said those priorities address several key factors that contribute to the overall health of the community.

“At this time, we are suffering simultaneously from three inter-related crises – a global pandemic, an economic crisis, and systemic racism. It should come as no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis have had disproportionate impacts on people of color, and especially African American and Black people,” said Dr. John Raymond, Sr. president and CEO of MCW.

To date, the ThriveOn Collaboration has made several investments in those areas, including: $13.2 million in grants through GMF in support of COVID-19 relief, response and recovery; and $37,000 in property tax relief to 114 homeowners in the Harambee, Halyard Park, Brewers Hill and Walker’s Point neighborhoods through the MKE United Anti-Displacement Fund.

The collaboration said its strategies are aimed at dismantling systemic racism and reversing the long-standing disinvestment in minority communities in Milwaukee.

“For Milwaukee to thrive, we are approaching solutions differently than ever before,” said Ellen Gilligan, president and CEO of GMF. “We are rejecting and working to replace systems that generate uneven and unjust outcomes, particularly for people of color. We are centering community voices and ideas. We are honoring the generational commitment to racial equity and inclusion the foundation made in 2016 with the bold action it requires.”

Plans for the building include 131,000 square feet of office space, 40,000 square feet of early childhood education and fitness center space, 77 affordable apartment units and a 315-stall parking structure. When the project is completed, GMF will move its headquarters from Schlitz Park to the new hub.

“With our collaborative efforts, we have the opportunity before us to influence meaningful change that will have an intergenerational impact. Impact that recognizes the challenges in racial, health and economic equity,” said Kevin Newell, president and CEO of Royal Capital Group. “At Royal Capital, we are leaders in urban development and innovation, and we are proud to stand with our partners at the Medical College of Wisconsin and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, and we are even more proud for the opportunity to stand up for our community.”

ThriveOn is seeking community input on its investments and program. Staff members are holding virtual office hours and leaders plan to establish a Community Advisory Council that will allow for more community voice in grant-making and program initiatives.