As the building that houses Urban Underground undergoes renovation with the help of volunteers and the Milwaukee Building & Construction Trade Council (MBCTC), talks are underway to transfer ownership to the youth development organization, according to Urban Underground founders Reggie and Sharlen Moore.
Former Milwaukee Bucks coach George Karl bought the building in 2005 for Urban Underground’s use because he believed in the leadership development work the organization does with urban high school students, said Executive Director Sharlen Moore. Reggie Moore now heads the Center for Youth Engagement (CYE), which operates in the same building.
Karl could not be reached for comment, but a Karl family advisor confirmed the pending transfer.
Ownership of the building “will allow usto put our resources into programming, where they are most needed and focus on the young people and our mission,” said Sharlen Moore.
The Moores began Urban Underground at 151 W. Wisconsin in 2000 and then relocated to 231 W. Wisconsin Ave. They moved to the current location at 4850 W. Fond du Lac Ave. from temporary quarters in the Esperanza Unida building on the South Side.
Shira Higgins, 16, and J’bri Seay, 17, arrived early Saturday morning to volunteer for the kickoff of the building renovation. Urban Underground expects to have a refurbished façade as well as new lighting, interior painting, electrical repairs and new flooring and carpeting by the start of the 2014 school year.
“I love Urban Underground, said Higgins. “I love being here and I wanted to be able to help out and make it beautiful so people will feel welcome.”
Added Seay, “I come here basically every day. I would like to see a better environment for more kids like me; a brighter environment, a cleaner environment where they can come and feel safe.”
“We really want the building to stand out” and be memorable to everyone who walks in, said Sharlen Moore. “It’s definitely going to be more vibrant; it’s going to be more colorful.”
With Urban Underground’s offices occupying about a quarter of the building and CYE’s using another quarter, Sharlen Moore said there is room for other organizations to rent space and community groups to use meeting rooms free of charge.
The facility is looking for partners who have complementary missions that are youth, community or socially driven to locate there as well, said Reggie Moore. He added that they would like the building to function as a “community innovation center.”
“This (renovation) opportunity has been a long time coming. And to have people such as Marcus Shepherd, who is a part of the building construction trades (and also an Urban Underground volunteer) be the point person to get this moving and implement this day actually happening has been a blessing,” Sharlen Moore said.
Shepherd, a member of the Painters & Allied Trades District Council No. 7 AFL-CIO, whose specialty is dry walling, asked the MBCTC to take on the project and the council accepted with enthusiasm, he said.
“It’s a huge undertaking but it’s something that we are looking forward to and ready for. I’m really glad that (MBCTC) jumped on board with the help of (organizer) Pam Fendt and many other building trade organizers. We just decided, ‘let’s do this and give back to the community,’” Shepherd said.
Ricardo Gutierrez, a Walker’s Point resident and member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, recruited volunteers from Local 494 to work on the project. Gutierrez said he’s volunteering because he believes in Milwaukee, where he learned his trade and where he estimates he has about 200 family members. He said he’s proud to be a Milwaukeean and wants to give something back.
During the renovation, Urban Underground will continue to operate its seven-week summer program in partnership with the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board, in which the young people work 20 hours a week.
The volunteer workers will mostly be there on the weekends and “we’re looking to leverage the help of our parents, community folks and our friends and family to make sure they put some skin in the game,” said Sharlen Moore.
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