South Milwaukee, Wisconsin

November 30, 2023

South Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Bridging the Past and Future: South Milwaukee’s Ambitious Vision


From bustling downtown developments to serene parklands, South Milwaukee provides a community-driven roadmap for the future.

South Milwaukee, Wisconsin, often hailed as a blend of small-town charm and metropolitan sophistication, proudly overlooks the shimmering shoreline of Lake Michigan. With its roots deeply intertwined in the industrial prowess of the American Midwest, this vibrant community boasts a history rich in innovation and resilience.

Historically, South Milwaukee has been an industry epicenter, most notably home to the Bucyrus Erie Company, which once manufactured the world’s largest steam shovels. Yet, beyond the impressive shadows of industrial machinery, one also discovers a city pulsating with life, culture, and natural beauty. Grant Park Beach, for instance, invites visitors and residents alike with its pristine sands and panoramic lake vistas, creating an idyllic backdrop for those seeking solace or adventure.

As the town strides into the 21st century, it has embraced change while cherishing its heritage. A diverse melting pot of businesses – from quaint boutiques to large scale manufacturing – now find a home here, showcasing South Milwaukee’s adaptability and commitment to fostering innovation. Yet, at its heart, it remains a community where neighbors greet each other by name and where every street corner tells a story. Festivals, farmers’ markets, and local theatre productions add layers of color and vibrancy to the town’s canvas, making it an enticing destination for business and life.

South Milwaukee’s Evolution: From Industrial Roots to a Flourishing Future

As times change, South Milwaukee is gearing up for a transformative phase, balancing its commercial and residential aspirations. Patrick Brever, the city’s Economic Development Director, highlights some pivotal projects reshaping the city’s economic landscape. “A significant portion of the Bucyrus campus remained vacant after their sale to Caterpillar,” he notes. However, the tides are turning. “Steele Solutions in Wisconsin has named South Milwaukee as their new headquarters. We also had an apparel business, Styled Aesthetic, move into a former Bucyrus building, almost tripling their square footage.”

Though larger enterprises have made significant strides in the city, South Milwaukee’s heart remains with its small businesses. Brever underscores the importance of local businesses, especially in the downtown area. “There’s a lot of pride in our downtown, particularly the Main Street, Milwaukee Avenue. While we’re looking to fill some vacant storefronts, we’ve witnessed considerable development. Our collaboration with regional entities like Milwaukee County, Milwaukee 7, and the state’s economic development corporation ensures we’re primed for growth.”

Elected Officials

An Urban Blend: Merging Industrial and Retail

South Milwaukee, with its deep industrial roots, continues to redefine itself by aligning past strengths with future possibilities. Companies like Steele Solutions, Styled Aesthetic, and DBHW Wealth Partners are at the heart of this metamorphosis. All three have expanded their operations in the city, indicating a promising uptick in local employment.

The lines between industrial and retail spaces seem to be blurring. Brever acknowledges that the Bucyrus campus, while industrial, presents opportunities for mixed-use development. “Styled Aesthetic, for instance, has a small storefront in their space within this manufacturing campus,” he points out. He also mentions that “there have been proposals for commercial or restaurant development at the Bucyrus campus, indicating a shared interest for both.”

City Administrator Tami Mayzik brings a critical perspective into this conversation by drawing attention to the geographical significance of the Bucyrus campus. “The Bucyrus campus,” she clarifies, “is in the heart of our downtown. When a business like Styled Aesthetic moves from a storefront to the manufacturing campus, they’re still essentially in the downtown.” This interconnectedness means that changes to the Bucyrus campus have broader implications for South Milwaukee’s downtown vibrancy.

With the city’s rich architectural history in mind, there’s been a conscious effort to preserve its essence while promoting growth. When asked about South Milwaukee’s appeal to businesses, Mayzik believes the unique blend of heritage and modernity is a magnet. “The Bucyrus campus, over 100 years old, underwent a significant upgrade in 2008. Thus, manufacturers moving in benefit from an upgraded site, ample parking, and shared amenities,” she notes. In essence, businesses experience the charm of historical spaces while enjoying the conveniences of contemporary infrastructure.

Cultivating Entrepreneurship: A New Business Movement

In a world where the entrepreneurial spirit is more alive than ever, cities must adapt and evolve to nurture this blossoming segment. With just a year under her belt working for South Milwaukee, Ericka Lang, Economic Development Project Manager, speaks of her relationship-building efforts with commercial property owners and business proprietors.

These relationships have reaped results. “In the last 6 to 10 months, we’ve seen ten new businesses take root,” she shares, noting a marked decrease in long-standing vacancies. South Milwaukee is also putting its money where its mouth is. Through the Bucyrus Foundation, three grant programs were introduced at the year’s start to support new businesses. These grants range from a $5,000 new business grant to a facade improvement grant and even a store activation grant, focusing on converting unusable spaces into viable retail or commercial environments. “We have three applications in the pipeline,” Lang reveals, emphasizing the program’s promising start. South Milwaukee collaborates with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, tapping into resources to aid new business initiatives and aspiring entrepreneurs.

Through such initiatives, the city’s relationship with the Bucyrus Foundation continues to thrive and shape the community. Despite Bucyrus’s acquisition by Caterpillar in 2011, its charitable section remains active, particularly in revitalizing downtown South Milwaukee. Brever recounts a key initiative, the Bucyrus Club & Event Center. Originally part of the manufacturing campus and later an employee club in the 1920s, this building was reimagined with the Foundation’s help. With a significant $1.5 million investment, it now houses an event and catering space on the ground floor and the South Milwaukee Industrial Museum on the second. The museum pays homage to Bucyrus, mining, and their integral role in the city’s history.

Bridging Education and Sustainability

Technological evolution and heightened environmental consciousness are key drivers of any town’s growth today. South Milwaukee is seeking to seamlessly merge two crucial aspects: advancing STEM education and sustainability.

Brever emphasizes the Bucyrus Foundation’s priority in introducing children to trades. South Milwaukee’s manufacturers are essential in aligning with the school district’s goals. “Any opportunity to bridge our manufacturers with the school district, we seize,” says Brever. By doing so, they address the dual challenges of keeping education relevant and providing alternate career paths for those not necessarily leaning toward traditional college routes.

Mayzik lays down the terrain’s reality when the topic transitions to sustainability. South Milwaukee’s 98% development leaves little room for traditional green initiatives. “In the face of redevelopment, we urge projects to consider factors like stormwater initiatives or material reuse,” she explains. However, there are limitations due to the city’s fully-developed status.

Yet, Jim Shelenske, Mayor of the City of South Milwaukee, offers a refreshing perspective. While urbanization has dominated most of South Milwaukee, a significant part remains untouched. “About a fourth of our city is Parkland,” he notes, painting a picture of the sprawling Grant Park that boasts hiking trails, picnic areas, an 18-hole golf course, and stunning views of Lake Michigan, not to mention a private yacht club.

Further enhancing this picturesque image, Mayor Shelenske proudly speaks about the city’s trail network, which is essential for bikers and walkers. “The Oak Leaf Trail winds around Milwaukee County, coursing through Grant Park and connecting neighboring parks,” he shares. He also recounts an anecdote of an out-of-state doctor who, upon visiting, fell in love with South Milwaukee’s captivating parks and serene neighborhoods.

Lang chimes in, further detailing the allure of the Oak Leaf Trail. “It spans 100 miles, connecting North County and extending westward. Apart from this, the Oak Leaf Parkway presents an environmental corridor that links the park to our city’s other side, offering natural trails and endless opportunities to explore,” she adds. It’s evident that despite urban constraints, South Milwaukee finds innovative ways to cater to both the eco-conscious and the adventurers among its residents.

A Thriving Future with Collaborative Endeavors

Amidst its ambitious plans, South Milwaukee remains committed to a vision of dynamic growth and development. This commitment shines through in its partnerships and projects, each tailored initiative to bolster community spirit and enhance urban life.

Brever enthusiastically highlights the significant contributions of collaborators that bolster South Milwaukee’s initiatives. “Milwaukee County and Milwaukee 7 have been immensely supportive,” he notes. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation also plays a vital role, providing a substantial grant for the Bucyrus Club & Event Center project. The local businesses also find a solid pillar in the South Shore Chamber of Commerce.

However, the heart of South Milwaukee’s aspirations is its people. Mayor Shelenske emphasizes, “Our primary focus remains the safety and welfare of our residents.” The city strives to flourish as a tight-knit community; its downtown is a testimony to this effort. “While we’ve achieved much, buildings are still waiting to breathe life. We aim to bring more foot traffic downtown, parallel to the bustling parks and beaches we’re proud of,” the Mayor articulates. The city’s vibrant businesses form a succession of triumphs, showcasing South Milwaukee’s allure.

Brever returns to the conversation, adding details about another monumental endeavor. “The Bucyrus Foundation’s generosity extends further, with half a million dollars invested in the Bucyrus Commons project.” Located in the heart of downtown, this initiative includes an event stage, an open-air pavilion, and a building housing concessions and restrooms. This facility is primed to uplift the ever-popular downtown market, held on Thursdays during summer.

Mayor Shelenske gleams with pride discussing the downtown market. Celebrating its 15th season, the market is more than just a place to shop. “It’s a space where music resonates, delicious food entices, farm goods beckon, and community spirit thrives,” he states. Beginning in June and lasting until October, every month at the market promises a special event. Whether it’s the heartwarming fall festival during Halloween, complete with pumpkin giveaways, or the moments when neighbors connect over melodious tunes, South Milwaukee’s market is an ode to the city’s dedication to nurturing a family-friendly environment.

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South Milwaukee, WI

What: A historic city with a rich industrial heritage, vibrant parks, and a forward-thinking approach to community growth.

Where: South Milwaukee, Wisconsin



November 2023 Issue of Business View Civil and Municipal

November 2023

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