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UW-Milwaukee - Center for Economic Development

Policy Research Report Abstract

Light Rail Transit and Inner City Redevelopment: A Proposal for Transit-Oriented Redevelopment at 27th Street and Wisconsin Avenue, February 1996, by Emily Van Dunk, Marc V. Levine, and Dale Dulberger


As Milwaukee considers building a light rail transit system, it is important to recognize that rail transit station-areas can be more than merely places where people board a train. Rather, properly planned and supported by public policy, station-areas can be catalysts for commercial, business, and residential redevelopment and a linchpin for community-wide revitalization.

To make more concrete the possibilities of transit-oriented inner city redevelopment in Milwaukee, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Center for Economic Development, with the advice and input of several neighborhood organizations, has sketched a draft "Transitional Area Development Plan" for the area surrounding a potential light rail station at 27th Street and Wisconsin Avenue.

The report is not offered as a "blueprint" for development around this particular station. Rather, it is presented to indicate, in a concrete but preliminary way: a) the kinds of development opportunities that could be associated with light rail in this station-are; and 2) the types of expenditures and policies, in addition to the basic transit investment, necessary to develop these opportunities.

The central recommendations of the report are as follows:

  • Transit development districts that have the powers to package pro-development zoning, low-cost financing, and other development incentives, should be established around all inner city station-areas, such as 27th Street and Wisconsin Avenue;
  • Community participation should be an essential part of the light rail, station-area development planning process. This should be accomplished through the formation of a "Neighborhood Transit-Oriented Economic Development Committee", that would work with appropriate City, County, and State officials in planning redevelopment in the transit development district;
  • A commercial, retail and office redevelopment plan, costing approximately $16 million, should be implemented in conjunction with the light rail stop at 27th Street and Wisconsin Avenue;
  • Anchoring the station-area redevelopment effort should be a substantial, multi-use station facility -- not simply a transit shelter -- on the southeast corner of 27th Street and Wisconsin Avenue. This mixed-use facility should include retail and office space;
  • The gas station currently at the northeast corner of 27th Street and Wisconsin Avenue should be relocated, making way for an office facility that could house a neighborhood-oriented public agency;
  • A large grocery store should be constructed on the property immediately south of the station structure;
  • Neighborhood "infrastructure" around the station-area should include attractive streetscapes, the addition of historical street lights, and uniform facades for store fronts on both 27th Street and Wisconsin Avenue. These plans should remain consistent with the plans developed by the current Business Improvement District on 27th Street.
  • Efforts should be redoubled to improve the image and reality of safety and security in the station-area and beyond, as a fundamental prerequisite for redevelopment activity;
  • A combination of bonds, tax exempt financing, and below market-rate loans, available from existing City and State development programs, could provide the necessary financing for the kinds of projects recommended in this study as part of a station-area redevelopment plan.

The building of a transit station will not automatically result in the economic revitalization of the 27th Street and Wisconsin Avenue station-area. But, as a component in an overall west side redevelopment strategy -- stretching from Miller Brewing through the Campus Circle project -- the light rail station area can help promote neighborhood revitalization.

Debate needs to occur on: 1) precisely what kinds of investments should accompany the proposed light rail stop; and 2) how the rail station area should be configured to maximize the development potential that exists in the neighborhood. The proposals offered in this report are modestly presented as a starting point for this community discussion.

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