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Harambee 'Buy Back The Block Tour' Hopes To Bring In New Businesses

Olivia Richardson
The former bar, Steff's Bar and Lounge, stands empty on Locust Street.

Entrepreneurs and people from the Milwaukee’s Harambee neighborhood toured city-owned, vacant business buildings Thursday. The goal is to get business back in Harambee.

According to Aldwerwoman Milele Coggs, the so-called “Buy Back the Block tour” is a chance to be more creative with building showings.

There are a lot of vacant commercial buildings in the north Milwaukee neighborhood of Harambee. In fact, Harambee along with Metcalfe Park has the most vacant buildings in the city.

However, a new effort is underway to change those numbers.

During an open house tour Thursday, city real estate developer Amy Turim showed me around a former daycare center.

Credit Olivia Richardson
On the building's first floor, cartoon characters and musical notes are painted in a mural. It was once home to a daycare center.

The asking price for this property? $50,000.  

It’s one of threecity-owned, foreclosed propertieson the tour.

As real estate developers and business owners stop by, they each have different ideas of what the spaces could be. A person looking to start a daycare… contractors who are considering renting fixed up spaces to business owners... Neighbors came to see what potential the space could hold.

Jeffrey Henderson, a long time resident of Harambee owns a pub nearby.  He is interested in seeing the buildings return to their former selves. "That one used to be a penny candy store. I would open it up into a convenience store for the neighborhood," Henderson says.

He has lived in the neighborhood since high school. Henderson remembers when the area had seven or eight businesses.

The idea of the open house was conceived by Alderwoman Milele Coggs. Coggs is hoping to get unconventional business owners interested in these buildings.

"They drive by these buildings all the time, but they rarely know about them being marketed. For me this was a way to get the unconventional buyer aware of the opportunity," she says.

And by unconventional Coggs means, “anyone.”

Whether they be new owners or experienced. She wants people to put the services and needs they desire into the neighborhood.

"Imagine walking out of your house, the building across from you is boarding up next you, and going though that day after day after day. I have to believe that has an impact on people in every way," Coggs says.

Credit Olivia Richardson
Before visitors can tour the properties, they must sign in.

Another reason Coggs wants to open up more businesses is tax dollars. "As a city, I sit on the finance chair. So we deal with $1.6 billion budget but only so much comes from the tax levee. For each of these boarded up buildings, that's a building not on the tax levee," she explains. "That's money that's not going into our police department, our prevention efforts, our potholes and that kind of thing. So the boards we take down and the more properties we get back on our tax roll, the more we add to the tax levee as well. And [we] have an ablity to spend on other departments that help add to the quality of life for the residents of the city of Milwaukee. "

The city has a couple of grants and reimbursement programsto help prospective buyers.

Coggs says that this will not be the last time a Buy the Block tour happens in Harambee, and she’s hoping that other districts will follow.

Olivia Richardson
Olivia Richardson became WUWM's Eric Von Fellow in October 2019.
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