With a housing boom following on the heels of a commercial boom, the Martin Luther King Drive neighborhood is proving to be Milwaukee's up-and-coming area despite the disappointment of losing the Harley Museum.
Commercial development on King Drive began about 1995, thanks largely to the efforts of the Historic King Drive Association, a group of business people and community members who formed the organization three years earlier to work toward revitalizing the area, according to Brian Haywood, former executive director of the organization, which now is called the Historic King Drive Business Improvement District. (Haywood recently left the position, and Randy Roth is the interim director.)
From 1995 through 2000, about $51 million in development funds were funneled into the King Drive area, which is bounded roughly by McKinley, Locust, N. 2nd and N. 4th Streets. During the 2000-'01 year, more than $151 million was invested in the neighborhood, Haywood said.
"We've had steady improvements, and the housing market now really is booming," he said. "That accounts for a very large part of the development in the past year."
Housing developments such as Cobbler's Loft, Reservoir Loft and other Brewer's Hill condominium projects are bringing customers to King Drive businesses and creating needs for more services in the area, Haywood said.
Non-believers need only look at the expansion projects of Ja-Stacy, a restaurant on King Drive. The business recently added an outdoor patio and 40-seat dining room to complement the existing 30-seat dining room. The expansion will accommodate the restaurant's influx of customers, owner Stacy Hasan said.
"The area is expanding, and a lot more people are finding out about it," said Hasan, who co-owns Ja-Stacy with Aaron Hasan. "It's close to downtown, and if you look at each direction into downtown you'll find an up-and-coming area. The Third Ward to the south, Brady Street to the east and King Drive to the north."
Housing and commercial development is not mutually exclusive, as is evidenced in the King Drive area. One of the development tools the Historic King Drive Business Improvement District offers is a $5,000 façade grant that the city matches, Haywood said.
While housing is the dominant development project there these days, business development continues, bringing both national chains and local businesses to the area.
Time Warner Cable moved its headquarters to the King Drive-McKinley Street area a couple of years ago. Restaurants like Ponderosa, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Wong's Wok have also joined the neighborhood.
Eat 3, a fast food restaurant featuring pastas, wraps and desserts such as ice cream and pastries opened on King Drive at Vine Street, Haywood said.
The idea behind bringing restaurants to the area is one of attracting customers who don't live near King Drive, as well as serving King Drive neighbors, Haywood said.
"If people are hungry, we want them to think of King Drive and then be able to choose from a variety of places to eat," Haywood said. "We also want to make sure we pay attention to needs and wants of the residents who have lived here a long time."
Hasan doesn't mind new restaurants coming to King Drive. In fact, she welcomes the competition.
"It's good to have other restaurants around. It just brings business to the area," Hasan said. "Anytime you can bring people to the area and create some competition, that's good for business. People have different taste buds. They don't all want the same thing."
Bean Head coffeeshop opened its doors just over a year ago, and owner Jelani Nation is thrilled to be a part of the MLK Drive community. Nation says he and his partners looked into several locations for the shop but felt this block had the most potential.
"We saw the change that was going on here," says Nation.
Over the past few years, there has been a focus on developing King Drive between North Avenue and Locust Street to help get the northern portion of King Drive up to par with the southern part.
Haywood was happy to see the Park East Freeway go. "It acts as a barrier between what people think is the good side of town versus the bad side of town," Haywood said. "Also, getting rid of it will free up land for development, and that makes good sense down here."
Fein Brothers, Crown Hardware and the DNR offices have all been anchor businesses for years. The Northern Chocolate Company is another gem, as is its neighbor, successful tattoo shop Adambomb.
"I like the fact that I can go that way and see mansions and that way and see slums," says Adambomb owner Adam Werther, who bought the building in 2001 and lives above the business. "This is a great neighborhood."