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A mixture of apartments, shopping, offices and water features aims to bring life to the hard-luck Harbor District.

Sometimes a mayor has to quote The Lovin’ Spoonful.

On Monday, Mayor Tom Barrett decided his time had arrived. “Hot town, summer in the city,” he recited during the sweltering ribbon cutting ceremony at the Freshwater Plaza next to the intersection of Greenfield Avenue and 1st Street. “Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty.” Wisely, the mayor cut the song short. “A renaissance is occurring at the heart of the city,” he said, speaking plainly, and while many efforts are progressing Downtown, this kind of project is bringing beneficial development to the South Side.

The Freshwater complex at 1329 S 1st St. includes a 180,000-square-foot building, which contains three floors of apartments, as well as retail spaces on the first floor. Next to the building, newly-built waterfalls shoot water down into a series of shallow, rock-bottomed pools, and across the parking lot lies the area’s second Cermak Fresh Market grocery store, which opens on Wednesday, June 14.

This ribbon cutting ceremony was part of a larger, ongoing effort to redevelop the site, which includes additional retail buildings and a large office building.

“This is a gateway to the inner harbor district,” said Stewart Wangard, CEO of developer Wangard Partners – including the UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences, which is east of the plaza on Greenfield.

Local bank executive Ivan Gamboa, a member of the Harbor District Board of Directors, said this neighborhood was the “heart of old industrial Milwaukee” and has been “down on its luck for decades.” The Harbor District Initiative is an attempt to revitalize the harbor area by helping existing institutions along the lake while also developing new projects, including environmental improvements. The Harbor District is also working on a water and land use plan drawing on input from the surrounding community.

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