In a 5-0 vote, the Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee passed a resolution last week to create a tax incremental financing (TIF) district to support the Sherman Phoenix project, which would transform the BMO Harris Bank building in Sherman Park into a hub of minority entrepreneurship. The building, at 3536 W. Fond Du Lac Ave., was damaged during the unrest following the police shooting of Sylville K. Smith in August 2016.
So far 12 black-owned businesses have been confirmed as tenants, according to Sabir. The TIF district would raise $225,000 to support the $2.5 million project, which includes purchasing the building. About half the funds needed for the project have been secured, said JoAnne Sabir, co-owner of the Juice Kitchen, 1617 W. North Ave., and co-developer of the project.
Sabir is co-developing Sherman Phoenix with Juli Kaufmann, president of Fix Development.
Among the investors is John W. Miller, founder and principal at Arenberg Holdings, a venture capital fund that supports start-up companies. According to Miller, projects such as Sherman Phoenix “are where the rubber meets the road.”
“It will provide entrepreneurs the vehicle to create jobs, and more importantly instill hope in a neighborhood desperate for positive change,” Miller said.
He said the challenge in investing in this type of project is to create a coalition broad enough to include neighborhood stakeholders as well as others interested in seeing Milwaukee as a whole prosper. The reward, he added, would be helping to create a sustainable business model that will reap benefits deep within the community.
Another source of funding for the project is a crowdsourcing campaign, which has raised nearly $13,000 through 52 contributions. According to the Indiegogo page, 13 percent of the $100,000 goal had been raised as of Sept. 25. The developers are also set to begin a community investment plan, which will allow local residents to make low-risk investments in the development and eventually collect annual dividends, Sabir said.
“We want people who live, work and serve in the neighborhood to have a chance to become owners of the building as well,” added Sabir.
Sabir was inspired by Ald. Khalif Rainey’s words when he wrote, “Be the phoenix that rises from the ashes,” in the aftermath of the Sherman Park unrest. Rainey sponsored the resolution to create the TIF district for the Sherman Phoenix project. Sabir and her husband Manaan, opened the Juice Kitchen in the Innovations and Wellness Commons in the Lindsay Heights neighborhood in October 2015.
“I was motivated to do something, but I knew that just bringing a Juice Kitchen to Sherman Park wouldn’t be enough,” Sabir said.
Among the first tenants lined up to occupy the Sherman Phoenix building was Joanna Brooks, owner of Embody Yoga, 2242 N. 17th St. Brooks currently runs her yoga studio out of the Walnut Way community center, but has committed to moving the studio to a development she hopes will empower the surrounding community.
“I think it will become this cultural hub for people of color and a place where we can come together and sell products and services that benefit the neighborhood,” Brooks said.
The project will eventually provide more than $3 million in direct impact, according to Kaufmann, while also creating 45 jobs and supporting 14 businesses.
“I hope [Sherman Phoenix] is a beacon of hope and a model for change in places too long stuck in the model of Milwaukee’s past,” Kaufmann said.
She stated that traditional financial and real estate systems construct barriers that prevent certain areas from thriving. The model Kaufmann and Sabir are utilizing is a neighbor-led and community responsive development approach that aims to build neighborhood wealth, said Kaufmann, also the co-developer of Tandem restaurant, in the former Historic Walter Schmidt Tavern in Lindsay Heights.
The building design is well under way with construction tentatively set to begin in November with the building projected to open next summer, Sabir said. She added that she is hoping not just for additional philanthropic support, but for people in the community to lend their time and talents to the project.
“We need people to invest in this space and help it become a vibrant hub where all Milwaukeeans feel comfortable and where people and businesses can flourish.”