By Princess Safiya Byers Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service Published Nov 26, 2022 at 11:01 AM Photography: Sue Vliet

Keith Stanley has spent eight years building a foundation for Near West Side Partners by creating partnerships that close observers say have helped develop the area. 

Under his leadership, the area has seen projects such as the PARC initiative, which has been credited with helping reduce crime on the Near West Side. PARC stands for Promoting Assets and Reducing Crime.

In addition, 40 news businesses have flourished in the neighborhoods since 2016.

Stanley announced earlier this month that he’ll be leaving his role as the executive director for Near West Side Partners, or NWSP, where he has worked to revitalize and sustain the Near West Side community. He has accepted a role as the president and CEO of University City Partners, a nonprofit in Charlotte, North Carolina, that works to increase the city’s economic vitality.

Before becoming the founding executive director of Near West Side Partners, Stanley worked at Milwaukee City Hall as chief of staff to then-council President Willie Hines Jr. He also served as the director of the SOHI (South of Highland) District, an organization focused on revitalizing North 27th Street south of West Highland Avenue.

When he started working on the Near West Side, his goal was to improve the quality of life for its residents. As he prepares to leave, he is reflecting on his organization’s accomplishments.

“When I called the mayor of this amazing city to tell him about the change in leadership, I was reminded that he lives in the Near West Side,” Stanley said. “That shows me that because of the work we’ve been able to do, the Near West Side is becoming a neighborhood of choice. A neighborhood our mayor chose to live in.” 

Just west of Downtown, the Near West Side is bound by I-43 on the east, Highway 41  on the west, Vliet Street and Highland Boulevard on the north and I-94 on the south. 

It is known for its history of entrepreneurship, which Stanley had worked to revitalize since NWSP’s inception in 2014. He said he couldn’t be prouder of the improvements he’s been able to see on the Near West Side.

“From the development and advancement that has taken place over the last few years to the BIPOC and woman-owned businesses throughout the neighborhood, it’s been an honor to see how much has transpired,” Stanley said.

“It’s a bittersweet feeling,” said Stanley, who will leave at the end of the year. “I’m excited about sharing all that I’ve learned in my new position, but Milwaukee is home.” 

The Milwaukee native said he will miss the city, but passed that his decision shows the power of partnership. 

“As I was going through this process, several people referenced Near West Side Partners and its work,” he said. “It shows the great work of not only Near West Side Partners but the whole city, and it’s being noticed nationally.” 

The Near West Side community seems to be in agreement that because of Stanley’s leadership, there is a strong foundation for whomever takes his place. 

“There is an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for Keith and his leadership,” said Patrick Kennelly, the director of Marquette University’s Center for Peacemaking. “He brought partners, anchors and residents together in a way that I hadn’t seen before.” 

“I’m excited for Keith,” said Tiffany Miller, a Near West Side resident. “I believe development and programming will continue because of the partnerships and community that has already been built.”

Miller said she hopes Stanley’s successor will be local and already a member of the Near West Side. 

“There is plenty of talent on the Near West Side and within Near West Side Partners,” she said. 

For now, Lindsey St. Arnold Bell, associate director of NWSP, will serve as interim executive director of the organization.

“Lindsey has a demonstrated track record of helping build change,” Stanley said. “I think she’ll hit a home run as executive director.” 

Though Stanley is on his way out, he said he is excited about work still being done in the Near West Side. 

“I am looking forward to the opening of 27th and Concordia,” he said. “I hope to be at the opening.” 

Concordia 27 is a project turning a vacant property on 27th Street into a community center and affordable housing development.

According to its website, the project will also offer resources and services to residents, create new full-time job opportunities, provide new creative spaces for community engagement and support entrepreneurs and small businesses as they grow and generate additional jobs to strengthen the local, city, and statewide economy.

Stanley said he’ll miss experiencing the different corners and sectors of the city. 

“There is beauty in diversity and culture, and our city has all of that,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to limit myself to one part and encourage others to take advantage of what the city has to offer.”