Every day, I drive along the northern border of the Haymarket neighborhood and I wonder why it's so neglected. Sure, there's activity there (see below) – the neighborhood is hardly a secret – but it seems ripe for so much more.
Since the Park East freeway spur no longer slices it off from Downtown, Haymarket can be a vibrant bridge not only between Downtown and Bronzeville but also between those areas and the booming (former Pabst) Brewery complex and Brewers Hill, too.
The neighborhood is adjacent to Schlitz Park, which edges closer and closer to full occupancy. On King Drive, in Haymarket, are the Park East Enterprise Lofts. There's a new park and bank branch along McKinley Boulevard, across from National Ace Hardware, the city's best hardware store. Bartolotta Restaurants is headquartered in the neighborhood and so is Miller Bakery.
Across the Park East is the Aloft Hotel and the Moderne residential tower. There's new development on the western edge, including a new $21 million Sojourner Family Peace Center building going up across 6th Street in Hillside at Walnut.
Across Walnut, in Bronzeville, there's a new development on tap for the old Garfield Avenue School.
In all of the discussions of the siting of a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, the discussion has been about connecting to Wisconsin Avenue and points south of the current Bradley Center, or to the river. But, let's not ignore the other side.
A new arena on the land north of the Bradley Center – which appears to be the favored location now –and a range of related mixed-use developments in the Park East corridor could cause development in Haymarket to go, well, haywire.
There's some amazing vintage building stock that could be transformed and there are a number of vacant sites – mostly surface parking lots – that would appear ripe for construction. Look at the satellite view in Google Maps and Haymarket land looks more empty than not. Much like the Third Ward, not all that long ago, there appears to be plenty of blank slate upon which to design a vision for the neighborhood.
And more than any other area in and around Downtown, Haymarket could become a magnet for families who want to live in the city center.
First and foremost, the neighborhood is home to Golda Meir Gifted and Talented School, one of the best in the city. Now that the school is expanding to 12th grade, families who get their kids in there could be set through high school.
Also, right next door is the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, which is also home to First Stage Milwaukee, which not only stages performances for families but offers classes that are ever-more popular with the city's kids. The Boys & Clubs Clubs of Greater Milwaukee have a relatively new facility just across 6th Street.
In 2011, a report was prepared for the city looking at the potential for development in Haymarket and it began with this "problem statement":
"A number of physical obstacles, including both public infrastructure and natural boundaries, disconnect the Haymarket Neighborhood from surrounding districts. The Haymarket Neighborhood lacks residenial occupancy, public space and an overall sense of identity. Although opportunity for growth exists in the area, Haymarket has not 'made the case' as to how
it could be the next catalytic neighborhood within the downtown area."
If there were ever a project that could jolt Haymarket to life, it is a new arena. But in order for that to happen, the city and the Bucks must turn around and take a look at the opportunities – especially for Milwaukee residents – that lie to the north, not simply to the potential tourists that might arrive from Wisconsin Avenue to the south.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.