Milwaukee Mayor Proposes Investing $15 Million to Create Vel R. Phillips Plaza

The new urban space would give a purpose to an underutilized parcel in Westown.

More than $15 million in proposed tax incremental financing funds would convert a portion of a long-underutilized Downtown parcel into a vibrant urban space that would honor a trailblazing Milwaukee leader and provide important civic and transit amenities in the Westown neighborhood.

The proposed plaza would be named in honor of Milwaukee politician, attorney, jurist and civil rights activist Vel R. Phillips and be situated south of Wisconsin Avenue between North Fifth Street and North Vel R. Phillips Avenue.

“The City of Milwaukee is prepared to move forward on the Vel R. Phillips Plaza that will add to the positive momentum taking place in the Westown neighborhood, which is witnessing a string of exciting development, investment, and activity,” Mayor Cavalier Johnson said.

“I am a strong supporter of gathering places and plazas. From economic development benefits and expanded public transit connections, to cultural and educational opportunities that are accessible for all, gathering places enhance the quality of life in our communities.”

A trailblazing figure, Phillips left an indelible mark on Milwaukee through her lifelong work. She was the first Black person and first woman elected to the city’s Common Council, the first female judge in Milwaukee County and the state’s first Black judge. She was also the first woman to hold the office of Secretary of State in Wisconsin and the first Black person to win a statewide election.



What’s Brew City’s best? We’ve picked 16 of our favorite Milwaukee craft beers for a March Madness-style tournament, but it’s up to you to pick the winner! Will it be bright and hoppy? Dark and malty? A zippy lager? Every one is worthy of the title; who will claim the sudsy crown?

Until her death in April 2018, Phillips remained an active leader in pushing for social justice, education and equal opportunities for minority populations in Milwaukee.

“On behalf of myself and my family, I extend our full approval and support for the Vel R. Phillips Plaza project. We are overjoyed,” Phillips’ son, Michael Phillips, said. “I can feel my mother’s blessing beaming down from above.”

A proposed amendment to Tax Incremental District #48 – the Park East Corridor redevelopment – would provide more than $15.7 million for the construction of the approximately 30,000-square-foot plaza, a 2,900-square-foot food and beverage retail space, a manicured garden, a flex space that could host farmers markets, food trucks or other community events, an informational kiosk, public art installations, and a station to accommodate Milwaukee County’s bus-rapid transit line.

“I applaud the city’s work to create this public space in honor of a true icon of our greater community,” Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said. “Milwaukee County is investing in and building upon transportation infrastructure to expand mobility and spur economic activity throughout the county.”

The proposed TID amendment also includes $4.35 million for infrastructure and lighting improvements in the area and $500,000 for the Commercial Revitalization Grant Program that provides financial assistance to commercial property owners for building renovations and improvements.

The Milwaukee Common Council, the Redevelopment Authority’s board and the Milwaukee Joint Review Board will consider the proposed TID amendment in the coming weeks.

The project area is close to several other Westown developments, including Fiserv Forum and the Deer District, The Avenue and 3rd Street Market Hall, the Bradley Symphony Center, the future global headquarters for Fiserv, Milwaukee Tool’s new Downtown office, and a new Kohl’s department store at Hub 640. It’s also adjacent to the Hilton Milwaukee City Center and the Wisconsin Center, which is undergoing a $420 million expansion.

The proposed plan also preserves more than 50,000 square feet of space on the site for future development. The Department of City Development will soon reissue a request for proposals for the key Downtown parcel.



Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.