By Jeff Sherman Staff Writer Published Apr 15, 2010 at 1:04 PM

As a part of Milwaukee Downtown, Business Improvement District #21's annual meeting and State of Downtown Economic Forum, I was invited to ask two Milwaukee leaders (and candidates for Wisconsin governor) a series of questions about Downtown Milwaukee.

Both Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker offered prepared comments on the current and future state of Downtown at the meeting.

Key data presented included:

  • Downtown Milwaukee residents have the second highest per capita income ($34,035) as compared to peer cities. Charlotte is first.
  • 2009 Home sales in Downtown Milwaukee were comparable to 2005 with 230 units sold.
  • More than 6 million people visit Downtown Milwaukee each year.
  • There are 97,000 college students in Downtown.
  • More than $1.8 billion has been invested in office, residential, recreational, retail and infrastructure developments since 2005.
  • 54 percent of Downtown's 81,947 workers earn more than $3,333 per month.
  • Between 1990 and 2006, Downtown increased its population between the ages of 25-34 from 22.4 to 32.2 percent.
  • The Downtown trolley loop will be back beginning June 3.

Here are the questions (submitted via e-mail before the event) and answers from both Barrett and Walker. Responses are listed in alphabetical order, so Mayor Barrett's are first. In your view, what are the three most important Downtown projects?

Tom Barrett: There are many worthy efforts, but I'll highlight three that, a generation from now will continue earning recognition. The Brewery at the old Pabst facility is first on my list. It revives a section of Downtown with a well thought out combination of commercial, residential, educational, and public uses. The Brewery is a great new chapter for this historic district. Next on my list is Manpower's corporate headquarters. This global leader in staffing chose downtown Milwaukee as its home and built a beautiful riverfront building. About 900 people work there.

The Milwaukee Intermodal Station will be recognized long into the future for its beauty, its function, and its impact on the surrounding area. The Intermodal Station is a "front door" to Downtown -- the first thing many see when they arrive in Milwaukee. It also serves as a catalyst for other development in a neighborhood with great potential.

Scott Walker: Park East Corridor, The Brewery and future hotel space.

OMC: What's the best way to secure a long future for the Bradley Center?

TB: The business community must step up if progress is going to come. The Bradley Center is a valuable asset -- that's why the city invested tens of millions of dollars including land acquisition and parking structure costs when the building was built. Current public sentiment does not support that kind of investment again. We need a full vetting of the options for the Bradley Center, and when that is complete, we can move forward.

SW: Find a way to connect to year-round entertainment complex on properties adjacent to Bradley Center. Make the area a destination before and after games and during the off-season.

OMC: What's your favorite spot in Downtown Milwaukee?

TB: Among many favorites, City Hall stands out. It's an iconic building, monumentally beautiful and has stood the test of time as a functioning seat of city government. City Hall is well worth the recent investments we made in maintenance and preservation.

SW: What else? Red Arrow Park. I love to skate, drink hot apple cider, ring in the New Year, watch the Marcus Center lights, etc.

OMC: Favorite restaurant in Downtown?

TB: Like a proud father, I'm not picking a favorite, but here are a few locations where I've had good meals recently: Mason Street Grill, Ouzo Café, The Red Accordion and Historic Turner Restaurant.

SW: Real Chili.

OMC: What are your specific ideas for reinventing the Shops of Grand Avenue?

TB: We are coming together to find sustainable, market-based solutions that can include appropriate redesign -- building on the ideas of the property owners, the city, and downtown interests. Retail succeeds with sufficient customer traffic; so one important focus is getting more people into the area who are interested in spending money.

SW: The area is more of a lifestyle center with many more people living in and around Downtown Milwaukee. I would take advantage of that with stores like a high-end retailer or grocery store.

OMC: How should Downtown modernize its public transportation system?

TB: We are building transportation around several principles. Our transportation systems need to be convenient, efficient, and desirable. We need systems that connect workers with employers. We need systems that promote the city's center with appropriate density of commercial activity. And we need transportation systems that project an image of Milwaukee that is attractive to business -- particularly business that are considering bringing jobs here. We need both a high quality bus system and a streetcar system that serves residents and businesses.

SW: Move forward on our Bus Rapid Transit system, which would increase the speed and access to Downtown. The new buses will also be cleaner and greener.

OMC: Do you support the Downtown Master Plan's call to change one-way streets to two-way?

TB: The simple answer is yes. We also need to listen to the specific concerns of the people who live and conduct business on the affected streets. Streets in a downtown area must do more than simply move cars quickly. They need to be convenient for residents and visitors, and the streets need to be designed in a way that serves retailers. Often that means fewer one-way streets.

SW: I do not have a position. I would suggest city work with business owners in area on plan.

OMC: If you had a magic wand, what one change would you make in Downtown Milwaukee?

TB: Downtowns thrive when lots of people come together. I want more people to see themselves Downtown -- to work, to shop, to visit, and to live. I don't think it necessarily takes a magic wand to accomplish that. Milwaukee Downtown, BID #21 is working hard toward that goal, and so is city government. I see more and more people sharing our vision. Great things are in the future of Downtown Milwaukee.

SW: I'd put Miller Park Downtown (with room for tailgating).

Jeff Sherman Staff Writer

A life-long and passionate community leader and Milwaukeean, Jeff Sherman is a co-founder of OnMilwaukee.

He grew up in Wauwatosa and graduated from Marquette University, as a Warrior. He holds an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University, and is the founding president of Young Professionals of Milwaukee (YPM)/Fuel Milwaukee.

Early in his career, Sherman was one of youngest members of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and currently is involved in numerous civic and community groups - including board positions at The Wisconsin Center District, Wisconsin Club and Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.  He's honored to have been named to The Business Journal's "30 under 30" and Milwaukee Magazine's "35 under 35" lists.  

He owns a condo in Downtown and lives in greater Milwaukee with his wife Stephanie, his son, Jake, and daughter Pierce. He's a political, music, sports and news junkie and thinks, for what it's worth, that all new movies should be released in theaters, on demand, online and on DVD simultaneously.

He also thinks you should read OnMilwaukee each and every day.