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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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In Marketplace Commentary

Dave Begel has a plan to revive the mall that was once the heart of Downtown.

A plan to turn around Grand Avenue


I am not an urban planner or an architect and I have never taken a course in the greatest use of space or in merchandising or retailing.

But I do know something about living and I know when something is alive and when something is dead. I really don't want to get into any arguments about our Downtown, either. But from where I stand, it's dead on the vine.

I love the people at Grand Avenue, but all their little efforts to bring the mall back to life are kind of like putting lipstick on that pig.

What we need here is someone who has the philosophy "Go Big, or Go Home."

I actually sat down with a pencil and a piece of paper (remember paper?) to jot down the things I'd put into the Grand Avenue space to bring it back.

First of all I'd create a place that is Milwaukee's signature. Everything about it would be Milwaukee.

I would get several of the best restaurant operators in town, Joe Bartolotta,
Omar Shaikh, Johnny Vassallo, and a few others and get them to open high-end restaurants in the place. I'd give them space and financial deals to get them into it. We'd have four or five or six top-flight local restaurants. Hell, let's shoot for the moon and ask Sandy D'Amato to open Sanford II.

Then I'd get four or five great bars. A couple of sports bars. A couple of trivia or game bars. I might have a dance club, or I might not.

And then two or three bars that feature live music five or six nights a week. I'd have a jazz club and a country bar and a rock and roll club. Again, I'd cough up some public money to lure people to build and operate these clubs.

Then I'd get at least two live theater venues. One would be a small black box
theater for new and edgy plays. The other would be a larger theater equipped to stage any kind of play.

I would build an art gallery to display and sell works by Wisconsin artists only. We'd serve wine in the gallery. There would be little marble benches to sit on and look at pictures. We could make this an annex of the Milwaukee Art Museum and get them to operate it.

I would hire a top-flight security company whose employees dressed in nice
clothes, not shabby faux-cop jackets and beaten up hats with a gold shield on them.

I would restore a movie theater across Wisconsin Avenue and put a few special retail shops on that side of the street. I would build walkways to wherever our new basketball arena is going to be. I would give the Milwaukee Bucks a pre-game supper club right in the mall, on the way to the arena.

I'd build a world-class center to care for little children. A place they can play and be safe.

This is all a dream, of course. But so what? Great things start, often, with a
dream. I know this would be expensive. But we can trade a lot of it out, give big tax breaks and infrastructure breaks to the operators. Get our money back as a share of the profits. Whatever this costs it seems to me It would me worth it.

That facility in the middle of our downtown is a beautiful one, with architecture that is unequaled anywhere in the city.

What we need is somebody who can see this kind of potential, pick up the ball, and start to run with it. I think if the spirit gets moving a lot of us would get on board and help push this bus down the track.

Mayor? Hello? Mayor?


Talkbacks

las816 | Oct. 25, 2012 at 3:13 p.m. (report)

I provide tours and everyone says we do not promote Milwaukee enough. The majority of the hotels surround the mall and they are disappointed when they go in to it. I would love to see interactive studios and shops all Milwaukee based for product and vendors. I would love to see the Milwaukee Film Festival and local college and artists films provided at the movie theater that you proposed. I would like the mall to be a hot spot for Gallery Night. I am working on my own business plan that includes ideas for the mall and marketing Milwaukee.

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AndrewJ | Oct. 19, 2012 at 8:52 a.m. (report)

When the first words weren't "controlled implosion", I was immediately skeptical about the article forthcoming. You surprised me here, Dave. It sounds like you're describing a Tampa Bay-esque, Ybor City type of entertainment district. If they kept it high end, with the restaurateurs you named, and kept the bar scene to more of a gastropub type environment, I think it could work. No dance clubs. Period. Once the dining scene got moving, you should be able to attract some good retail again. All in all, a good plan. Good luck with the mayor. You can probably find him and Chris Abele in a basement somewhere playing with trains.

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kman8900 | Oct. 18, 2012 at 3:21 p.m. (report)

Shhhh, Dave, be quiet. You might wake him up.

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