Riverworks: 25 years of Community and Economic Development

In 1992, as a result of Chrysler Corp announcing it was shutting down American Motors Corporation’s operations in Kenosha and Milwaukee, a number of leaders from private and public sector organizations decided to form a non-profit to acquire and sell the 38 acres that were unsold in Milwaukee’s northeast neighborhood. Those entities included: Riverwest Industrial Council; the City of Milwaukee; UW-M’s Center for Economic Development; WISPARK LLC (WE Energies development subsidiary); Greater Milwaukee Foundation; Harambee Ombudsman Project, Inc.; East Side Housing Action Committee; and Opportunities Industrialization Center; the State of Wisconsin’s Teaching Factory; and Milwaukee Area Technical College.

This leadership group’s efforts resulted in the purchase of 38 acres from Chrysler, which were then parceled and sold to job creating businesses as a mini urban industrial park within the City’s highest unemployed area; lowest income tract; and highest crime rated district. The City created a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation guaranteed the loan, MATC provided 12 computer terminals that were used for a Microsoft Learning Lab to help train displaced employees, and WISPARK marketed the available sites. The State contributed its relationship with Germany’s Fraunhofer Corporation to display its latest Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) machines to local mechanical engineers. Those leaders appeared before the City’s Tavern Licensing Committee to oppose the renewal of problem bars and to urge the City to raze 2 reputed drug houses.

Originally established as the Northeast Milwaukee Industrial Development Corporation, the NMIDC’s scope of work grew to add retail and housing to its mission and as a result renamed itself the Riverworks Development Corporation, (RDC). Since 2003, the RDC developed its last 2 acres into a 6 unit shopping center on Richards St.; acquired & reused an outmoded manufacturing building and developed Riverworks Lofts, a 36 unit low income housing tax credit project; created the Financial Opportunity Center; created Riverworks Cleans – a social workforce training enterprise; has acquired the former Kohls /Lena’s store & Family Dollar Buildings on Holton Street to redevelop as Riverworks City Center. The Riverworks City Center will include The Vibe, an entrepreneurial shared worked space concept, expanded RDC offices and new training facilities.

This dynamic private/public development collaboration has been an inspiring model locally & nationally to other community development collaborations and among others has been recognized by: the Ford Foundation; the Local Initiative Support Corp; the Wisconsin Economic Development Association; The Kresge Foundation, Greater Milwaukee foundation, Greater Milwaukee Committee and the national Council for Urban Economic Development (CUED).

In the upcoming year there will be several opportunities for you celebrate this anniversary in person and to get better acquainted with RDC’s important work.