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Planned Parenthood’s quiet but impactful move

New construction is usually a big deal. Especially when it’s an $8 million development just south of the Third Ward, on a parcel near the water. There’s usually a photo op and groundbreaking event to bring attention to the project. But none of that occurred in 2016 when Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin began work on a new health clinic at 435 S. Water St., which opened in October 2017 and offers a variety of services, including abortions.

At the old location on Jackson Street, people entering the clinic often walked past protesters. But at the new spot, the front doors border the parking lot and are farther from the sidewalk, where protesters can legally stand. Planned Parenthood effectively “made an $8 million move to get away from our sidewalk counselors,” says Dan Miller, director of Pro-Life Wisconsin, adding that the group didn’t learn of the clinic until its opening. “This was probably the best kept secret I’ve ever seen.” So just how did Planned Parenthood keep the project, three years in the planning, a secret?

Planned Parenthood Milwaukee interior

Photo courtesy of PPWI

They made no announcements.

“We didn’t make a big splash about it,” says Tanya Atkinson, chief executive officer and president of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. “We didn’t send out press releases.” Contrary to Miller’s claims, the new 12,000-square-foot facility was needed for a variety of reasons, “to enhance and modernize our services,” says Atkinson. In addition to existing reproductive health services for men and women, the new clinic could begin to offer vasectomies, colposcopies and more preventative care.

They selected a site with relatively few neighbors that already had the proper zoning.

“This property is designated ‘industrial mixed,’” says Jeff Fleming, spokesman for the Milwaukee Department of City Development, “so a medical office is a permitted use, [and] there is no reason for additional zoning review.” He says it doesn’t matter whether the owner is “Planned Parenthood or Aurora.”

They started the development using a shell company.

In 2016, a Dallas-based entity called Bocatoli LLC bought the land, prompting news stories of an incoming “medical office building,” but very few people knew this was Planned Parenthood.

They raised money quietly,

including extensive fundraising from in-state donors. The ironically-named $28 million “Be Visible” campaign funded the new health center, along with a raft of new programming and a legal advocacy fund. Edie Brengel Radtke, Lynde Uihlein and Marianne Lubar led the fundraising initiative.

And they waited until the last minute to assume full ownership.

Just before the clinic opened, Planned Parenthood bought Bocatoli in a move comparable to how some for-profit businesses hide developments from their competitors. “How this played out is totally normal for a development project,” says Nicole Safar, vice president of the Wisconsin chapter. And besides, “The state Legislature and Gov. [Scott] Walker have shown they will stop at nothing to prevent women from getting access to abortion services. We didn’t want to end up in a long legal battle.” 


‘Quiet Development’ appears in the January 2018 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning January 1, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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