By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Mar 09, 2018 at 2:07 PM

When the BMO Harris Bank branch in Sherman Park was burned during unrest in 2016, the bank did not walk away. Instead, it built a brand new branch (pictured below) directly across the street and opened it last December.

The old building, it was announced at the May 2017 groundbreaking, would become Sherman Phoenix, a wellness incubator spearheaded by entrepreneur Joanne Johnson-Sabir and developer Juli Kaufmann.

In December, Sabir told OnMilwaukee, "We are still raising funds and have reached a significant milestone of $2 million raised. At this point, we have roughly 15 entrepreneurs slated to join us as tenants.

"We are now looking for neighbors who would like an ownership interest, as well as philanthropic support for our capital campaign. As we advance the development of the physical space, we will also be launching our entrepreneurship support program in collaboration with Launch MKE."

Today, the founders announced that the project is nearing its goal of raising $3.5 million to fund the project.

"With the help of over 100 investors and donors, $2.5 million has been raised to fund Sherman Phoenix," the statement said. "Currently, $1 million more is needed before the building can be completed."

Today’s release described the project like this:

"The Sherman Phoenix will transform the fire-damaged BMO Harris Bank building located at the eastern gateway to the Sherman Park neighborhood into high-quality space for small businesses-of-color offering diverse foods, wellness services and cultural activities. Updates to the neighborhood will include much-needed community spaces to curate art exhibits, film showings, and cultural events.

"Once completed, Sherman Phoenix will house 17+ small businesses, which will contribute to 75+ new jobs in the neighborhood. To further encourage entrepreneurship in communities of color, Sherman Phoenix will also provide mentorship and coaching for tenants who have signed to be part of the project."

Food tenants so far include Buffalo Boss wings, Funky Fresh Spring Rolls, The Juice Kitchen/Uprising Cafe, Lush Popcorn, Next Level Vegan, Pizza Bar and Purple Door Ice Cream.

Culture tenants include Queens Closet, Hello Beautiful, None Above, Nails by Theresa Langdon, Paint & Sip Lounge, and Royal Trinity Locs, while wellness tenants include 8 Branches, Embody Yoga, Sabir's Karate and Fitness Center/Studio 1969 and Honeybee and Sage Apothecary.

"The power for this project not only comes from donations, but also from the people and the tenants who have joined this movement," said Sabir, who is a co-owner of The Juice Kitchen. "The overall commitment to the betterment of this neighborhood has blown us away."

Kaufmann, president of Fix Development and the other co-founder of the project added, "We are amazed by the strength of our tenants and how well their vision for the neighborhood matches ours," added Kaufmann, who is president of Fix Development.

Stay tuned for more details on this exciting project.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

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 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.