Walnut Way cuts the ribbon on the wellness and workforce resilience hub and announces new project
Milwaukee, Wednesday, December 9 — Today, Walnut Way Conservation Corp., a neighborhood-based nonprofit known for its innovative work in economic and environmental health and wellness, cut the ribbon on the second phase of the Innovations & Wellness Commons (“The Commons”) project located at 1609 North Avenue.
The first phase of The Commons is a nationally-recognized model for pioneering community health and wellness programming, and the second phase expands on this vision. The total project is a 17,200 sq. ft. $3.3M commercial mix-use development, aimed to meet community health needs, stimulate economic growth, and strengthen social connectivity in the community.
The buildings were designed with purpose, preserving historical elements and combining new architecture like a rooftop-garden terrace that overlooks North Avenue. With environmental sustainability in mind, The Commons includes solar panel + battery storage and a number of energy efficient and stormwater management features. Walnut Way’s social enterprise, Blue Skies Landscaping, installed environmentally sustainable features on the rooftop terrace and parking lot to mitigate stormwater.
“Our goals are ambitious,” said Walnut Way’s Executive Director, Antonio Butts. “Through the Innovations & Wellness Commons, we are providing space for culturally relevant wellness and health services for residents, accelerating entrepreneurs in the health and wellness sectors, and spurring pathways for employment in the health care sector. We are focused on both the ‘what’ and the ‘how,’ with the vision of individual and community transformation.”
The second phase of the project is a new construction 5,470 sq. ft. 1.5 story building built on the parking lot adjacent to phase one. Phase two includes street level commercial space, second floor offices, and a 2,000 sq. ft. rooftop terrace overlooking W. North Avenue.
Antonio Butts, Executive Director of Walnut Way, tenant business owners, funders and other community leaders were on hand to celebrate the new development at a small private ribbon cutting which was live-streamed to the public. Butts announced a $350,000 donation from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation Anonymous Fund, which recently closed the capital campaign, making the project debt-free.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated what we already know to be significant gaps in health and wellbeing and access to services between white, black and brown communities. The Wellness Commons offers culturally relevant multi-disciplinary services to meet the needs of Lindsay Heights residents and the broader community,” said Gina Stilp, Executive Director of the Zilber Family Foundation, a major funder of the project.
Tenants of phase two include an array of services including mental health counseling, nutrition, and recovery. The Milwaukee Area Health Education Centers, United Neighborhood Centers of Milwaukee, the Benedict Center Sister’s Program, Perseverance Health and Wellness by Bridgett Wilder, Living Well by Marrika Rogers, and the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) Scholar’s Program are scheduled to move in by the end of the year.
The first phase of the project, a 6,500 sq. ft renovation of an existing building and a 4,500 sq. ft. new addition, is equipped with a commercial kitchen operated by Milwaukee Center for Independence (MCFI). The project is home to MCFI, Fondy Food Center, and Walnut Way’s new social enterprise, Walnut Way’s new enterprise, “Designaway” apparel printing and maker’s space.
Walnut Way Conservation Corps is the owner and Antonio Butts, Executive Director, was the project developer for the Innovations and Wellness Commons phase two. Additional partners included: Mayer-Helminiak, LLC, architect; Michael Emem, Owners Representative; JCP Construction, construction management; and Reinhart Boerner & Van Deuren, legal services. Financing was provided through a mix of philanthropic gifts and nonprofit financing through IFF.
“Our goal is to create a highly sustainable development that will allow Walnut Way to provide affordable space for small businesses to learn, connect, and grow. Now that the bricks and mortar phase is done, we can focus on the economic aspects and supporting the best programs and services for our community,” said Butts.
At the event, Butts also announced Walnut Way’s next major project, a multi-parcel new construction and renovation project to build a permanent home for their social enterprise, Blue Skies Landscaping. The project is a continuation of efforts to transform the Lindsay Heights neighborhood into a model for Green Infrastructure and Climate Resilience. Butts said the project will serve as a long-term home for Blue Skies Landscaping to support its continued growth, and serve as a demonstration and training site for green infrastructure and sustainable urban landscaping, in addition to offices and equipment storage.