By Steve Palec Special to OnMilwaukee Published Mar 26, 2019 at 4:01 PM

I was just thinking about 2009. It wasn’t that long ago. And while the hit movie "Avatar" would not be released until the end of that year, I am pretty confident that, if I were to receive an Na'vi doppelgänger, I could've still gotten away with a likeness that featured more pepper than salt in its hair.

One thing that's still the same is that I spend a lot of time thinking about my hometown of Milwaukee. And when I think about everything that has happened during these past 10 years, I am amazed.

A lot of people around the country took note of Milwaukee being awarded next year’s Democratic National Convention. It really doesn’t matter what your political affiliation is; it's an event that, without question, will have the eyes of the world watching. And what all those eyes will see in this well-kept secret of a city is that it's nothing like it was a decade ago.

In 2009, the Milwaukee Brewers were playing at beautiful Miller Park, but they were enduring a losing season. The Milwaukee Bucks were winning but were at the Bradley Center. The sparkling new Fiserv Forum is state-of-the-art, as well as a magnet for new retail and residential development. Both of those spectacular facilities are as good as it gets.

But what gets me truly excited is just how many things now exist that didn’t back in 2009.

The former Pabst brewery area was a bunch of empty buildings. It now vibrates with offices, hotels, students and event spaces.

You had to bring your own bike in 2009 – and if you wanted to hop on a streetcar, you were out of luck. Both are available to share now. In fact, the streetcar is free.

There has been over $3 billion in public and private development in the past 10 years. Over $775 million of that total has gone into spectacular housing options. The Moderne and The North End weren’t there in '09 – and obviously the restaurants in them weren’t either.

Speaking of which, you’d marvel at the explosion of dining options in Walker's Point or the Third Ward or Bay View or Wauwatosa. And whether you take your recommendations from the Food Network or James Beard nominees, they are abundant and spectacular in Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, we have moved light-years beyond beer and cheese. Rest assured you can find them at their finest here, and there were a few brew pubs in existence 10 years ago. But now taprooms are everywhere you turn.

Brewery tours are undisputed fun as is the Harley Museum and the flapping wings of the Art Museum. Be careful though if you walk around the Lakefront like it’s 2009. You’ll physically bump into the Discovery World addition, volleyball on the beach and the totally reworked Lakefront Gateway that allows easy public access to Lake Michigan.

Summerfest goes beyond 11 days as the world’s largest music festival with ethnic events almost every weekend and unrecognizable improvements, many still to come. And speaking of entertainment, concerts play literally every night at numerous facilities while the symphony and ballet have new homes.

Did I mention work? Spectacular office buildings have opened their doors since 2009 including 833 East Michigan, Hammes HQ, Foxconn’s Downtown building and the sparkling BMO Tower under construction.

There have been amazing renovations to Schlitz Park and other properties. How can you not be impressed by Northwestern Mutual’s million-square-foot office jewel and the brand new 7Seventy7 luxury apartment high-rise? And if you are looking for work, Amazon, Klement’s, Palermo’s, Rockwell, Kohl’s, Milwaukee Tool and others all have more space since 2009 – and would undoubtedly be happy to talk to you. Komatsu Mining is ready to transform the harbor area with another new headquarters, along with the Michaels HQ building.

A few more changes since 2009: lots of grocery options, NEWaukee’s Night Market, Oak Creek with an IKEA and about a 100 other things that weren’t there a decade ago, and world class artwork on Wisconsin Avenue. Milwaukee now takes fitness seriously. Numerous unique hotels, like Brewhouse, Journeyman, Iron Horse and more, are popping up all the time.

West Allis has a lot of great features beyond the racetrack and fair; The Hispanic Collaborative, Park Place & Menomonee Falls areas have lots of new companies; Haymarket Square and Brewers Hill are growing; and The Research Park and the Mayfair retail choices continue to impress.

A 21-story timber tower is about to go up. There's the Riverwalk, Brookfield’s Corners and Corridor projects, an active Water Council, hockey and soccer, America’s Black Holocaust Museum, fun new baseball options in Franklin and Mequon, a world renowned Medical College & Children’s Hospital, not to mention a chance to make a fortune on Airbnb during the aforementioned convention.

I guess that last one’s not so great for visitors, but we think you’ll want to stay in something a little more permanent once you get here.

Do we have issues? Sure. It does get somewhat less than balmy in the winter months. And on a much more important note, there are things to fix in terms of schools and segregation. But this is still a city trying to improve for all, a city where you can safely visit, shop and eat in the Sherman Phoenix project that rose from the unfortunate unrest of 2016.

Maybe best of all, our amazing universities – Marquette, UWM and MSOE – are not only growing and graduating future leaders, but those people are staying and many are coming back.

There’s more – like the Milwaukee Film Festival, which was just getting started in 2009, and Grand Avenue, which was avoided in 2009 but is now undergoing an amazing transformation to include office, apartments and a phenomenal food experience.

So let me leave you with this last point about Milwaukee and its ten-year transformation: In 2009, Southwest Airlines was just beginning service here. Now it can pretty much get you anywhere and in from anywhere. Others are taking note. And the train to Chicago is a breeze.

It’s been an amazing ten years. Look me up when you visit and I, plus a few hundred thousand other friendly Milwaukeeans, will enthusiastically make sure you enjoy what we don’t take for granted.

Oh, and don’t forget to try the frozen custard.

Steve Palec Special to OnMilwaukee
Steve Palec, the host of WKLH's "Rock and Roll Roots" wrote a letter to every radio station in town when he was a sophomore in high school. He offered to sweep floors.

Two responses came back, including one janitor position. Steve took the other: the opportunity to hang out at WUWM.

After that, he worked at WAUK, then WQFM, then WZUU, then back to WQFM ... and finally worked afternoons at WKLH for a little while.

"I gave up Eddie Money to earn money in 1986," says Steve, who eventually entered the world of commercial real estate.

"But 23 years ago WKLH offered me the chance to wake up early every Sunday morning," he says. "I mean every Sunday morning. I mean like 5:30 am. I mean no matter what I did on Saturday night. Live every Sunday morning. I love it."