By Steve Jagler Special to Published Apr 02, 2008 at 8:13 AM

A lot of words might come to mind when you think of Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward. Depending upon your perspective, those words might include: trendy; cool; hip; artsy; creative class; urban revival; snooty; pretentious; and overpriced.

And you know what? Maybe it's a little of all those things.

However, Fortune magazine has added another word, a curious word, to that list: "seedy."

The April print edition of Fortune includes a piece on "Cool-Spotting: How entrepreneurs turn bad neighborhoods into great business locations."

The article tells the story of how budding entrepreneur Jamie Wilke opened his Jamie Wilke Interiors furniture store in Oconomowoc before Lake Country became such a prestigious destination.

The article explains that Wilke's wife, when told of her husband's plan to open a hip new furniture gallery in Oconomowoc's then-struggling old downtown, remarked, "Are you crazy?"

According to the article, people such as Wilke have a "sixth sense" about spotting cool locations before other people do.

The article then states, "In October, Wilke opened a new store in Milwaukee's seedy Third Ward. His wife's reaction to his newest venture: 'There are rats bigger than our children!' This time, Wilke sees her skepticism as a good omen."

Hmmm. That article was brought to the attention of Dean Amhaus, president of The Spirit of Milwaukee. Amhaus has become a de facto defender of the City of Milwaukee.

Amhaus sent the following letter, which he shared with me:

"Dear Fortune Small Business Editor:

A friend just called me and read me a sidebar story entitled 'Cool Spotting,' which appeared as part of the 'Best Places to Live and Launch' article in your April 2008 issue. I literally laughed out loud in the office (my officemates can attest to it) when she read me the statement 'Milwaukee's seedy Third Ward.' The piece goes on to quote someone who states that 'there are rats bigger than our children' in the Third Ward. Of course, it being April 1st, I thought that my friend was pulling an April Fool's joke on me. She faxed me the story as proof. Whoops, my surprise - no April Fool's joke.

Seedy??? Actually the word should have been 'trendy.' Not sure about the rats thing -- all I have seen is continuous growth and development in the Third Ward.

In fact the Historic Third Ward boasts the highest concentration of art galleries in the city, numerous restaurants, unique specialty stores, architects, advertising agencies, graphic designers, artists, the Milwaukee Public Market, the Broadway Theatre Center, the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design as well as condominiums, office buildings and industrial space.

I can appreciate a good laugh, but please, come visit Milwaukee's Third Ward and discover a very 'hot' neighborhood.

P.S. While you are in town I would enjoy taking you to see our neighbors in Oconomowoc which is just a short distance west of Milwaukee and which is also mentioned in the sidebar. You will be in for another great surprise that reaffirms that the Milwaukee region is TRULY COOL. Trust me - no April's Fool joke."

Good job covering our backs again, Dean!

Now, here's an asterisk to the story. A few months ago, Small Business Times moved our offices to the Historic Third Ward. It quickly became obvious to us that the Third Ward is a great recruiting tool for job candidates, customers and new sources. In the first week in our new digs, we did not yet have janitorial service. So, I needed to take my trash can down to the building's dumpster. No big deal, right?

As I dumped the trash in the dumpster, the load landed upon ... a very, very large rat, which apparently was just as startled as I was. That thing jumped into the air and seemed to hang there, in suspension, like Michael Jordan, as my heart pounded and I fell onto by butt in the snow.

Truth be told. There are rats in the Third Ward. Large, athletic rats. I don't know if they're as big as the Wilke's children, but they are obviously well-fed. In fact, many properties along the Milwaukee River in the Third Ward have rat traps in their basements.

Now, here's the epilogue of the story ... The online version of the Fortune magazine article has been edited. The paragraph with the "seedy" reference now says, "In October, Wilke opened a new store in the Third Ward, a long-neglected commercial district in Milwaukee. Mirroring a shift that's happening all over the U.S., suburban empty nesters are selling their four-bedroom homes and snapping up condos in the city."

Well, I guess that's an upgrade. I'd rather be known as "long-neglected" than "seedy."

Steve Jagler Special to

Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes in Milwaukee and is past president of the Milwaukee Press Club. BizTimes provides news and operational insight for the owners and managers of privately held companies throughout southeastern Wisconsin.

Steve has won several journalism awards as a reporter, a columnist and an editor. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

When he is not pursuing the news, Steve enjoys spending time with his wife, Kristi, and their two sons, Justin and James. Steve can be reached at