MLK Commons IV: Another Transform Milwaukee Success

Milwaukee's historic intersection of Martin Luther King Drive and Center Street was all abuzz on October 11, 2013, as hundreds turned out to celebrate the ribbon cutting of King Commons IV.

The project, including 41 new rent-to-own housing single family homes, duplexes, townhouses and historic apartments with outstanding amenities was the latest phase and largest development completed by the Martin Luther King Economic Development Corporation.

The Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) was involved in all four phases of the well-received project in Milwaukee's Harambee neighborhood, allocating $960,000 in Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) to help make the terrific King Drive Commons IV development possible. Over the 10-year life-span of the credits, that's a $9.6 million investment in the adaptive reuse of a highly visible, historic building.

In addition, under WHEDA's Emerging Business Program, 14 people were hired and emerging business firms received over $3 million in contracts for this development. King Drive Commons IV is located within the Transform Milwaukee area. Wyman Winston, WHEDA's Executive Director complimented the city of Milwaukee at the standing room-only ribbon-cutting.

"The work that the city has done and its focus on this street with various partners, project by project, Commons by Commons, is transforming this corridor for the people who live here," said Winston.

Other partners that collaborated on the project include Wisconsin Redevelopment, Miller Architectural Group, Universal Construction Solutions, National Equity Fund, Impact Seven, and supportive leaders and residents in the Harambee community.

The project drew praise from Rachel Rhodes, vice president of National Equity Fund (NEF). "Credit officers get terrified when they hear the words scattered site, urban infill, historic rehab. They hide under their desks because it's been done so badly in such public ways," she said. "Now I get to say, 'Look, it was done right and it's phenomenal.' A community is changing as a result. You have all these very public failures, but here's a public success. This should be the map for how it should be done - not just in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, but throughout other Midwestern cities."

Winston reminded the audience that while we best remember Martin Luther King for his civil rights work, he also focused on economic development, encouraging a triumphant march to the realization of the American dream. One of King's goals was to see economic depression dissolved, with people of all colors living side by side in decent, safe, sanitary housing. So King sought conditions in which families can grow and have respect in the community. A new statue of King sculpted by Zenos Frudakis was unveiled at the ceremony outside in the freedom garden.

Throughout the project's community room, there are other reminders of the late activist, photos and quotes printed on the walls including this excerpt from King's 1965 commencement speech to Oberlin College that sums up the King Drive Commons IV project very well: "The time is always right to do what's right."