Urban League to Move to Bronzeville

Metcalfe Park building to become senior housing

The Milwaukee Urban League has finalized a deal for a new location in Bronzeville, which simultaneously gives it an updated building and leaves behind a sizable investment in its present Wright St. headquarters, the organization’s executive director said.

Ralph Hollmon, president of the league’s local branch, said it will open offices at 435 W. North Ave. as part of a process that over the next 12 to 15 months will transform its former offices in Metcalfe Park into a new, affordable housing complex for moderate income seniors.

The Urban League closed on a $1.2 million deal with Bezelee Martin, patriarch of the Lena’s Food Market chain, to open the offices in a building the Martin family owned in Bronzeville.

The transaction will allow the Urban League to leave a decaying facility in Metcalfe Park, at 2800 W. Wright St., and have it redeveloped and expanded into an 80-unit senior living facility in one of the poorest census tracts in the city. The construction and renovation of the old building and a new four-story addition to it are estimated to cost $12 million.

The money to buy the North Ave. headquarters came from a $500,000 grant from We Energies and from U.S. Bank, which agreed to lend the league $800,000. The league has launched a $1.5 million fund-raising campaign to provide a cushion for the loan and to cover maintenance expenses at the new location, Hollmon said.

“This is an ambitious goal, but people should remember this is not only an investment in the Urban League, it’s an investment in making our community a better place to live and raise a family,” he said.

The Urban League is working with the Madison-based developer Gorman & Co. to redevelop the Wright St. offices, Hollmon said. The project is receiving $7.5 million in tax credits through the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.

It will be known as the Wesley L. Scott Senior Living Community, in honor of the league’s former director. Scott died earlier this year. Gorman says it will create apartments within the existing building as well as the new building to be constructed on site.

A feasibility study from Gorman and a conversation between Martin and Hollmon set the deals in motion.

Martin and Hollmon discussed the possibility of acquiring the Martin family site during the national convention for the NAACP in Milwaukee in July, but it was not until mid-October that they knew the purchase would be finalized, Hollmon said.

“To see this and know that you’ve been able to make it happen is great,” said Martin, a former Urban League board member.

The move to its new facilities will expand services already provided by the Urban League and add a franchise component, which will help entrepreneurs acquire franchise deals similar to those operated by Fred Jones’ International House of Pancakes in the Midtown Center and Stella Love’s Ponderosa Steakhouse on King Drive, Hollmon said. That project will be financed initially through a $160,000 grant from the Helen Bader Foundation.

Hollmon said the board worried about what its move would do to Metcalfe Park, which led to talks with Gorman and WHEDA about the senior complex.

Since those early discussions, the league has formalized its partnership with both groups.

“We hope this is going to be a catalytic project to help revitalize this section of Metcalfe Park,” Hollmon said.

Since it opened in Milwaukee in 1919, the Urban League has had several locations, including facilities at 904 W. Vine St., 631 W. Vliet St., and 12th and Center streets.

“This has been the conclusion of a long, intensive and sometimes frustrating process to find a new facility,” Hollmon said. “But when it happened, it happened almost overnight.”she said.