Global Water Center Makes “Big Splash”

On August 13, 2012, a century-old, deserted warehouse in Milwaukee's Walker's Point neighborhood was creating a buzz. Despite the shattered windows, broken glass, dirt and grime, there was excitement outside the dilapidated, old building. Groundbreaking took place to redevelop the seven-story 98,000 square foot vacant structure into Class A office and research space. The Global Water Center would focus on water technology.

"Milwaukee is the water hub of the world. When you think of clean water, when you think of fresh water technologies, Milwaukee, Wisconsin is the place you need to think about," Governor Scott Walker told the crowd.

Rich Meeusen, the Milwaukee Water Council Co-Chair delivered an ambitious, optimistic message.

"Somebody built the first building in Silicon Valley. This could very well be the first building of a new water technology center in Milwaukee," said Meeusen. "We think we can help solve the world's water problems. We can develop new technologies."

Just over a year later, the buzz for a brand new building on a brand new street was even greater. The grand opening for the Global Water Center that is located within the Transform Milwaukee area was held on September 12, 2013, at 247 Freshwater Way (formerly Pittsburgh Avenue). Elected politicians along with public and private sector officials spoke enthusiastically before a crowd of about 400 on a sunny, breezy late afternoon.

"We're making a big splash here today," said Governor Walker.

Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) Executive Director Wyman Winston said he was "delighted to celebrate one of the most exciting days in the history of this great city," and that the Global Water Center was one of challenging goals chosen "not because they're easy, but because they're hard."

"What we have here is not a field of dreams," said Meeusen, co-chairman of the Water Council trade group. "We have a building of reality. We built it and they are here."

Twenty five companies were already located inside the Center at the time of the groundbreaking. The Center features common area amenities, including a 44-person lecture hall, exhibition space for new prototypes, as well as high-tech, shared core facilities. The first floor of the building also boasts a $500,000 state-of-the-art flow lab providing tenants with the ability to conduct highly accurate testing of water samples in real-time. In the past, that task has been outsourced.

The Global Water Center is acting as the catalyst to jump start the redevelopment of the Reed Street Yards, an area to the west. It's expected that the Global Water Center will support 162 direct full-time equivalent positions. Of these jobs, 49 are expected to be filled by low-income community residents.

WHEDA is a part of the nonprofit Wisconsin Community Development Legacy Fund (WCDLF) that is responsible for allocating New Markets Tax Credits (NMTCs) in Wisconsin. WCDLF awarded $20 million in NMTCs in 2012 for the purpose of redeveloping the vacant warehouse.

The Global Water Center will be critical, not just to Milwaukee, but to America and beyond. Water is a requisite resource for businesses, vital to their performance. As a result, businesses wisely have made water management a high priority. Water strategies create value for businesses, their employees and stockholders. The Global Water Center will now be thrust into the international spotlight, providing the potential for much-needed innovative water technologies.

Companies that view water with strategic importance will "look to Milwaukee for guidance and lessons about what is possible," said UN Global Compact Cities Programme Director Paul James.

Today, Freshwater Way is a transformed landscape with new employees in a sparkling new facility working in a thrilling industry that will return vitality to that portion of the Transform Milwaukee area.

Before the grand opening crowd was allowed to tour the Center, dignitaries were given ice picks to chop into two large blocks of ice to signify the official opening of a facility that will forever put Milwaukee on a global map.

"We will look back at today as a day that Milwaukee permanently changed," said Mike Lovell, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.