By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published May 28, 2015 at 11:01 AM

Empty storefronts have long been a concern throughout the city. Even seemingly bustling neighborhoods seem to have too many vacant retail spaces. But in some neighborhoods the problem is of epidemic proportions.

"For years, NEWaukee has created signature experiences for local businesses and business improvement districts," said NEWaukee’s Chief Idea Officer Jeremy Fojut in a statement. "The programs draw large audiences and impact the local economy in temporal, but meaningful way.

"We often hear, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if these programs could fill the vacancies long term?’"

In an effort to kickstart neighborhood revitalization by injecting new life into dead retail spaces, the Wisconsin chapter of the commercial real estate development association NAIOP and NEWaukee team up to present the Empty Storefronts Conference (ESC).

The day-long conference – headquartered at The Shops of Grand Avenue – will be held in six city business districts on Monday, June 1, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will, in Fojut’s words, focus "on holistic solutions, national trends and success stories that fill vacant storefronts."

A slate of local and national speakers will address the issues faced by business districts in breathing new life into retail spaces and keeping storefronts open and thriving.

Full-day tickets are $110 and half-day tickets are $60. Tickets can be purchased at

"The neighborhoods were chosen based on the projects we are currently working on within those neighborhoods or future initiatives or partnerships we might be a have," said Fojut.

"We basically are trying to help BIDs and neighborhoods with capacity challenges that many neighborhoods face when there are limited resources."

The neighborhoods included are Avenues West, Burleigh Street Corridor, Cesar E. Chavez Drive, Layton Boulevard West Neighbors/Silver City. the former Pabst Brewery and The Shops of Grand Avenue.

"The goal of the conference are to talk about what is going on at a national level and successes that have already worked in other neighborhoods to fill vacant storefronts," Fojut said. "It is designed to get people in the same room that shape our city from a developer to a leader of a Business Improvement District. In addition, it also provides an outlet for small businesses owners that have been thinking of starting something to obtain information.

"I realize you don't attend a conference and all of a sudden storefronts are filled. But if we start thinking of holistic approached, streamlining process and changing policy we might start to see less vacant spaces when in the next 5 years. Even if one to two storefronts are filled based on ideas heard or networks created I think I will be happy. Also you have small business owners, brokers, developers, bankers, city officials and community leaders all in one room talking about very specific topic new ideas might form."

In addition, Fojut said he hopes the conference will help develop long-term and short-term strategies and ideas to fill store fronts; best practices and successes stories from other cities that have already implemented ideas; obtain feedback from neighborhood, brokers, developers and small businesses on what it will take to address these issues; build a national network of people that work in this profession; and showcase different neighborhoods in Milwaukee instead of focusing on Downtown.

Among the speakers and themes showcased at The Empty Storefronts Conference are:

  • The Impact Empty Storefronts Have on Communities​, by Errin Welty of Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and and Amy Greil of UW-Extension
  • Micro-lending for Your Small Business, ​Lauren Stinson, from Kiva
  • Storefronts as Pop-Up Prototypes​, Eric Ho of Miles Manhattan, N.Y.
  • Storefront: Urban Innovation and the Maker Movement​, Tristan Pollock of 500 Startups, San Francisco, Calif.
  • Pop-up to Permanent: The Economic Development Policies of Place​, Sarah Filley of PopUpHood, Oakland, Calif.
  • How a City Can Impact Storefronts​, Veronica Gonzalez of City of San Antonio, Texas
  • 8 Early Action Projects to Fill Storefronts and Transform Commercial Districts​, Joel Bookman of Bookman and Associates, Chicago
  • The Strip Mall Has Been Stripped. Retrofitting Suburbia​, June Williamson of City College of New York and co-author of "Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs"