ThriveOn Investing $5 Million In Neighborhood Child Care Facilities

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Schuster’s redevelopment. Conceptual rendering by Engberg Anderson Architects.

The ThriveOn Collaboration intends to invest at least $5 million in childcare and early education providers in the Harambee, Brewers Hill and Halyard Park neighborhoods over the next five years.

The nonprofit collaboration, a partnership of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation and Medical College of Wisconsin, will invest in childcare facilities and improvements to practices for existing providers in the neighborhood.

The collaboration also announced the operator of a new 14,000-square-foot childcare facility will be included on the first floor of its planned ThriveOn King facility, 2153 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. Malaika Early Learning Center will operate the new center in addition to its existing location at 125 W. Auer Ave. The new facility will be able to accommodate 78 children (“seats”) between the ages of six weeks and five years old and will offer subsidized care and private pay tuition options.

“We heard early and often from residents that having quality, affordable options for early childhood education is a pressing need,” said Kathryn Dunn, senior vice president and chief strategy officer for the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, in a statement. “Our approach, all the while, is to be additive to the neighborhoods while supporting the assets and talent already here. This plan offers dual benefit – partnering with a model provider to bring more high-quality seats to the King Drive area for our littlest learners while investing heavily in those already serving the community to enhance quality and access across the board.”

Malaika Early Learning Center was selected as the in-facility operator following what the partners said was an “extensive evaluation process” that included area residents, providers and other community stakeholders.

“The ThriveOn King opportunity allows Malaika to level up its efforts to ensure children are great by the age of eight, or ‘Great By 8’,” said Malaika executive director Tamara Johnson. “Early care and education tends to be the missing piece of the puzzle in thriving community efforts. Malaika is proud to be part of this collaborative effort to provide a prosperous and equitable community for all.”

As part of announcing a $700 million campaign in March, GMF said one of the five priorities was “$6 million for making a generational investment in early childhood care and education.”

The press release announcing the ThriveOn effort provides more detail on what that would look like. “Informed by research and provider-identified priorities, the program will provide capital to address deferred maintenance and improve facilities for enhanced program quality and capacity. Grant support will be paired with technical assistance related to design, construction, real estate and finance that providers may need to achieve their projects,” said the ThriveOn partners.

Royal Capital Group is serving as the developer on the ThriveOn King complex, a former department store most recently used as a storage facility.

It is to include 89 apartments, with 74 set aside at below-market rates. Twenty-seven of the units would be targeted solely at seniors. A food hall targeted at startup vendors would be included on the first floor alongside the childcare center.

GMF will relocate from Schlitz Park to the facility. MCW originally announced it intended to locate its community-facing programs in the facility. Together the two partners will lease approximately 100,000 square feet of the more than 350,000-square-foot complex.

The city is to provide $12.6 million from a developer-financed tax incremental financing district to support the development. The structure is effectively a property tax rebate if the building hits a minimum assessment threshold and places the risk on the development team. But a November-approved extension required construction work to start by Feb. 28 and be substantially complete by June 30, 2023 to access the TIF support.

Substantial construction work is not yet underway on the development, which was first announced in 2019.

The oldest building in the complex was built in 1907 as a home for Schuster’s Department Store and expanded many times. The Gimbels chain acquired Schuster’s in 1961 and operated the store until 1969.