This week brought very good news for the North Avenue Market, 5900 W. North Ave., the food hall proposed for the West Side corridor that straddles the Uptown Crossing, East Tosa and Washington Heights neighborhoods.
The project, spear-headed by William "Chris" Harris-Wimsatt, has an updated timeline, thanks in large part to the approval of a $1.86 million loan from the Milwaukee Economic Development Corp. which will help to finance the purchase of the building and the renovations to follow.
The financing is a huge step forward for a project which was initiated in October of 2019 and proposed in June of 2020, but it was delayed by the need for approval from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Before the former bank building could be sold, mitigation related to an oil tank which had been used years ago to heat the building needed to be approved. The approval was expected by August of 2020; but additional work was cited by the DNR, causing a delay that quickly snowballed.
“The DNR reached resoltion on the issue in April of 2021,” notes Harris-Wimsatt. “But by that point, the financing for the project had to be revisited. MEDC has come through for us and now we are waiting for the final word from the Small Business Administration (SBA).”
Once that’s secured, he says, they should be able to close on the purchase of the building in October and begin construction.
Fortunately, thanks to Harris-Wimsatt's efforts behind the scenes, many of the other necessary elements for the food hall have been approved. A variance needed for the proposed drive-thru at the Market has been approved, as well as the liquor license for the market. Commercial authorization plans have also been approved by the city.
With so many of the larger time-consuming hurdles cleared, the Market is in a good position. In fact, barring construction delays, Wimsatt-Harris says an opening in spring of 2022 is looking realistic.
As a result, updated renderings created by Leah and Peter Ogden of o&o studio, the firm behind branding and design for the Market, have been produced. The new drawings offer a more realistic view of the market than previous conceptual drawings, giving the public a peek at what’s slated to come.
A mission driven gathering space
The North Avenue Market is a project which promises varied dining and retail experiences, live entertainment, indoor and outdoor seating areas, a well-curated bar and a convenient drive-thru window where folks can grab anything from a coffee to a multi-course feast for the family.
It’s also a project that aims to create a welcoming, inclusive environment that’s enjoyable for everyone.
"I want the Market Hall to be different,” noted Harris-Wimsatt last summer. I want everyone to find a component here that they can relate to. Whether you are LGBT or in a wheelchair … whatever your race or ethnicity, we want everyone to see this as a welcoming space."
Construction on the project will be completed with help from Galbraith Carnahan Architects, 6404 W. North Ave., and 53 Builds, 5419 W. North Ave. It’s not inconsequential that both businesses are located in the community surrounding the new food hall.
“When we talk about community and teamwork on this project, it applies to every element,” he says. “We got various leads for the project, but we were very lucky to connect with people who understood the community, and also happened to be neighborhood residents.”
A community of vendors
Community also extends to the vendors at the Market, which Harris-Wimsatt reports is currently 70% filled.
Tenants will include A Taste of Java, a coffee shop operated by Rubryx, a program offering on-the-job learning for high school and college students. The Market’s main bar and a 12-seat lower level Mosler’s Vault speakeasy will be operated in partnership with Bittercube, 4828 W. Lisbon Ave.
Food vendors will include Sharon’s Table (a new concept which will serve a menu of soul food), Juana Taco/Mangos Cafe, Twisted Plants and Arty’s Sweet Talk Cupcakes. Meanwhile, Opulant Studios, which will offer massages and facials, will also occupy a space on the garden level.
Harris-Wimsatt says some office space is still available (spaces can be secured for flexible time periods that accommodate daily half- or full-day rental as well as weekly, monthly or yearly rates). There are also three food vendor spaces and a pop-up space that have not been filled.
More good news
In the weeks ahead, Harris-Wimsatt says they expect to get confirmation for $800,000 in federal grant funding secured through WWBIC (the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp.). Half of the funds would assist in funding the Market; the remaining would cover costs for vendor services, including marketing and business coaching provided by WWBIC staff.
Harris-Wimsatt says he also feels fortunate that the immediate community is still engaged and excited about the project, even after multiple delays.
“People are excited about the Market and asking about it,” he says. “And that’s the best possible scenario. I walk in the neighborhood every day and it’s great to talk to all the people who approach me with comments and questions about the project.”
That's very good news for everyone – particularly the Washington Heights, East Tosa and Uptown Crossing neighborhoods – all of which will benefit from a community gathering place focused on providing a welcoming and accepting space for all.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.