Editor’s note: This article is one of an occasional series profiling the finalists for Milwaukee Awards for Neighborhood Development Innovation (MANDIs). Todd Hutchison is a finalist for the Northern Trust Navigator Award, which recognizes an individual for leadership and collaboration.
Recycling has always been in Todd Hutchison’s blood.
“My grandfather was a junk collector and he would turn it into cash…that’s part of what’s inside of me,” he said.
Hutchison has carried on the tradition of recycling on a much bigger scale, working for the last three decades to turn Milwaukee’s discarded buildings into affordable housing and storefronts for small businesses.
“When you recycle buildings, that’s the greatest recycling that there is,” he said. “To be able to take buildings or areas that other people are throwing out and see little or no value in and bringing them back to life and being able to show that there’s value there gives me a lot of joy and a lot of pleasure.”
Hutchison has worn several hats in the city’s development community, including his current role as consulting director of real estate development at Impact Seven, an organization that helps low-income communities with business, housing and property management, and investment.
Hutchison also helps run Wisconsin Redevelopment and ABC Redevelopment, his own firm, where he focuses on smaller real estate opportunities.
“When you tear down a building in a neighborhood, you are sending a message to people in that neighborhood that what they have is worthless,” he said. “When you are able to bring it back to life and revitalize it, it sends a totally different message that what they have has some value.”
Hutchison’s career took off in the 1990s when he refused to listen to critics who doubted that condominiums would sell in Milwaukee, especially in the once crime-infested Third Ward. Hutchison instead led a drive to spend $13 million on turning two abandoned warehouses into mixed-income loft style condominiums at the corner of Water and Chicago streets, one of the first such projects in the now-booming neighborhood.
“That project helped give a kick start to the Third Ward development,” he said.
Hutchison also worked for the YMCA, where he helped buy and redevelop 40 condemned single-family houses in the inner city, making them available to low-income individuals such as Mary Jordan.
“Todd understands the power that home ownership brings to a person, a family and a community,” she wrote in a letter on his behalf. “Todd has devoted his career to improving lives.”
Making things happen
Those early triumphs helped shape Hutchison’s career in Milwaukee, where he has been involved in two dozen residential and commercial projects, consisting of more than $135 million of investment. The result has been creation of 675 residential units, many of which are affordable housing, and 13 commercial units.
One of the prime examples of Hutchison’s work can be seen along King Drive, where he has helped develop more than 60 affordable-housing apartment units as part of King Drive Commons, a five-phase commercial and residential redevelopment project.
A separate project, the King Heights Apartments, a $2.9 million historic rehabilitation of mixed-use and mixed-income apartments, makes Hutchison beam with pride because of the bronze statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that was erected as part of the project.
“One of my greatest joys is driving by that statue and seeing a bus out there and all of these kids are standing around the statue and learning about Dr. King,” he said.
One of the latest examples of Hutchison’s work is the renovation of 24 foreclosed homes on the South Side. Through a partnership between Layton Boulevard West Neighbors and Impact Seven, the homes are now rent-to-own affordable housing units.
“Todd is making things happen in neighborhoods that directly impact the quality of life,” said Charlotte John-Gomez, executive director of Layton Boulevard West Neighbors. “He moves things forward that others would have called it quits on a long time ago.”
Hutchison was instrumental in the $6 million project, bringing together the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA), banks, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and the city of Milwaukee, according to John-Gomez.
“He’s a consensus builder who can align all of the pieces together for a successful outcome,” she said. “We would have never taken on this type of development without Todd and his vision.”
Another project emblematic of Hutchison’s work in Milwaukee is the Mitchell Street Market Lofts. The project was conceived by Sherry Terrell-Webb and Tina Anderson, two students who took a real estate class taught by his Wisconsin Redevelopment business partner Bob Lemke at Marquette University.
As part of the Associates in Commercial Real Estate Program, Lemke and Hutchison guided the pair through completion of the $6.1 million affordable-housing project on the South Side.
“He does not just build to build, he does what is going to be a positive impact for the city,” Anderson said. “He really looks at the long-term impact and really cares about the people who are going to live there.”
Lemke and Hutchison have been in business together since 2002, when they created Wisconsin Redevelopment, a two-person real estate firm that focuses on utilizing historic and affordable housing tax credits for development.
“Todd has been involved in some of the most difficult and complicated projects in this city that most developers won’t address,” Lemke said. “Todd’s heart is in the right place.”
Hutchison has both a strong sense of design and a sophisticated understanding of the complicated financial puzzle that are required for successful affordable-housing development, Lemke said.
“He is an exceptional developer…You don’t see someone with all of the skills that he has normally,” he said.
Hutchison grew up on a farm in New London outside of Appleton, where his family ran a campground. In high school, Hutchison found his calling in architecture.
“But, like kids do, I went into a totally different field,” he said.
Hutchison drifted into the social services field after high school, taking various jobs at domestic abuse shelters and working with delinquent youth while taking social work courses at various local colleges.
“I kind of bounced around a bit,” he said. “I finally got tired of it and burnt out.”
Hutchison found his way to Milwaukee and the School of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. After graduation, he went to work for a small firm, where he sharpened his focus on urban development and his disdain for suburban sprawl.
“When I was growing up in New London, a very small town, Milwaukee was this huge, very scary place,” he said. “What I found was that Milwaukee is a whole bunch of little neighborhoods…I fell in love with it.”