MILWAUKEE — As many downtown office towers remain largely empty due to COVID, Milwaukee’s Commissioner of City Development sees a big comeback and continued growth, and not just downtown.
Layfayette Crump is a Milwaukee native and less than a year into the job as Commissioner. He joked that it is not a glamorous position.
“Very few people grow up thinking I can’t wait to be Commissioner of City Development," said Crump.
As a product of the City’s Amani Neighborhood, Crump is well positioned to balance the need for growth downtown with the need for it to benefit the City as a whole.
“When we develop downtown and administer tax incremental dollars downtown, people wonder how does that affects areas outside of there,” Crump admitted. Elevating the tax base, providing new jobs, and the ripple effects of new development are all ways Crump points to the positive effects of downtown development, which he says is already rebounding post-COVID.
One of the most visible changes to the downtown skyline Crump anticipates is the Couture project at the end of Michigan Street. The residential high rise has been talked about for years, but Crump believes the project will break ground soon. “The Couture, it’s one of those projects that’s been gestating for a long time, but we’re almost there. We’re going to see it break ground in 2021.”
The City is expecting more than $400 million in federal stimulus money, and Crump says City leaders have only just begun imagining what they can do with it. One thing to count on, expanding the streetcar.
“I think absolutely you’ll see extensions of the HOP. It’s important to recognize the growth of the HOP eventually is going to support so many different areas of the City and get people to jobs, promote residential growth,” Crump predicted. “Across the country, you see transit-oriented development when streetcar track is laid, you start to see growth in those areas.”
As evidence the downtown office will come back post-COVID, Crump points to the desire he sees in companies moving to downtown like the plans recently announced by Milwaukee Tool to relocate, up to 2,000 employees from the suburbs to a downtown office at 5th and Michigan.
“I'm very excited about what's going to happen downtown. I think what you're going to see is different companies thinking about their company culture, what makes sense for them. There will be some companies that decide on more of a flexible space so they'll have people come in a couple of days a week, but then there will be other people who will come in," said Crump.
Beyond downtown, Crump looking to build the 30th street corridor on the City’s north side. He’s hoping to land a big development at the Century City business park, or a series of smaller investments.
“Milwaukee has to recognize where it is in the marketplace, and understand what perhaps the most likely opportunities are, but also, be aspirational about where we can be,” Crump said. “That's what we want our residents to do. That's what we want our kids to do. That's what we want people in different neighborhoods in the city to do. To think about what can be, and we ought to be doing that in city government as well.”
The City is, right now, making a play for Oshkosh Defense to manufacture electric vehicles at Century City.
Milwaukee also needs, according to Crump, more affordable housing in all areas. He acknowledges the term often carries a negative connotation, but Crump believes affordable housing should not mean second-rate housing. “Yeah, they're affordable, but they're going to have really nice amenities. They're not going to say that just because you're not in a luxury highrise that you don't deserve to be in a place that feels good to call home.”
There’s no question Crump is bullish on the future of Milwaukee, downtown and beyond, though it’s what anyone who knows him would expect. “I am an eternal optimist. Sometimes, sometimes to my detriment. But, generally, I think that positive view of what can be, if you put in the effort... if you bring enough other people along, has generally served me well.”