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Milwaukee Business Leaders: Streetcar will Generate Business & Development

The Milwaukee StreetCar

After months of debate, the City of Milwaukee has approved a two-mile streetcar loop, which will run through downtown and the Third Ward.

The Common Council approved several measures related to the project on Tuesday, on a vote of 9-6.

The proposals now go to Mayor Tom Barrett, who is expected to sign them soon.

Opponents of the streetcar project say it will be a waste of taxpayer money. They vow to continue to fight the project.

Proponents, including some in the business community, say the streetcar will generate business and development.

A number of business leaders met Monday to make their case – on the eve of the Council’s vote.

Manpower offered its stage in downtown Milwaukee to about a half dozen business leaders who support the proposed streetcar. Manpower CEO Jeffrey Joerres led the charge. He says the project is crucial for attracting new businesses.

“It’s about creating this vitality. It’s about making sure that we compete. We are one of the 30 largest density, most-dense cities. There are only two of those cities that does not have mass transit rail. We’re one of them,” Joerres says.

Joerres did not mention the other city without light rail. But Linda Gorens-Levey said one community that has invested in it, is Portland. Gorens-Levey is director of Stark Investments of Milwaukee.

“Portland has seen a $3.5 billion increase in new economic development along the streetcar route and Kansas City’s streetcar has influenced $1 billion in public and private development downtown. In addition, the streetcar will create thousands of temporary and permanent jobs for workers in Milwaukee and the neighborhoods around it,” Gorens-Levey says.

One person sitting in the audience at Manpower says he’s hoping for jobs – but not from the rail project itself. Patrick Cook says he lives on the near south side and belongs to the local steamfitters union.

“We wouldn’t have too much to do with the streetcar. But, the buildings that are going up around it, that are tied to it like the Couture building and the Johnson Controls building, yes, we would love to be working in them,” Cook says.

Cook says he’s confident the council will approve the streetcar. Members took a preliminary vote in January, and most favored the project. The council delayed a final vote until Tuesday, to give opponents more time to gather 31,000 signatures on petitions. They want to put the matter before voters in a binding referendum.

Craig Peterson is helping organize the signature drive. He’s a local PR executive and businessman. Peterson calls the streetcar a waste of money. Even though the federal money can only be used for a downtown streetcar, he says the community should focus on connecting unemployed people with jobs.

“There are other plans out there where you could use existing rail corridors and perhaps look at doing the equivalent of a Metra throughout the Milwaukee area that would get people from our hardest hit communities where there’s significantly high unemployment to industrial jobs or factory jobs or warehouse jobs which are predominantly out in the suburbs,” Peterson says.

Despite the fact the petition drive did not succeed by Tuesday, Peterson says his faction will continue collecting signatures from people opposed to the streetcar. They hope to succeed, while the project would still be in the planning stages, not in the ground.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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