Raynetta “Ray” Hill has been named the new executive director of the Historic King Drive Business Improvement District No. 8 in Milwaukee, where she’ll advance ongoing efforts to attract more housing development and support the active street’s businesses.
Hill replaces the BID’s previous director Deshea Agee, who left this summer to join Milwaukee real estate firm Emem Group LLC. She brings a lot of experience in Milwaukee’s community development space, including as the King Drive BID’s associate director from 2016 through 2018.
The district supports businesses and economic development along North Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive between West McKinley Avenue just north of downtown to Capitol Drive.
“We’ve seen a lot of new partners come into the business improvement area as well as new businesses,” Hill said. “We’ve seen the increase of vitality from downtown has really started to shift north. Also, we’ve seen a lot of (requests for proposals) being issued for blighted and vacant spaces.”
Hill most recently was director of funding and community engagement for CommonBond Communities. At CommonBond, Hill helped support the rehab of 90 affordable apartments at Meadow Village at North 17th and West Vliet streets in Milwaukee, for example. She also is a board member of the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.
As Hill noted, King Drive is seeing a surge of new investment. The Dohmen Co. Foundation is rehabbing King Drive buildings to move its offices from Milwaukee’s 3rd Ward. The $100 million ThriveOn project is redeveloping one of the corridor’s largest buildings, a former Gimbels/Schusters store, into affordable apartments and offices for the Medical College of Wisconsin and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.
Agee’s current employer Emem Group is a partner on the redevelopment of the King Drive public library branch that could break ground next year, which includes 93 affordable apartments.
There are more redevelopment opportunities on the horizon. The state of Wisconsin has set a Dec. 2 deadline for companies to submit offers to purchase the 3.4 acre former Department of Natural Resources office property at King Drive and West North Avenue.
“The main objective is to continue the work that has already been happening and not to create a totally new initiative that changes the trajectory and focus of where the BID is trying to go, which is trying to revitalize and maintain as many local businesses in the area as possible,” Hill said.
The King Drive BID board currently is trying to attract a catalytic, market-rate housing development to the corridor, said board president James Phelps of JCP Construction. He said the BID will announce details on that concept after it has control of the land where it could be built. The district also will focus on supporting existing businesses as they emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, he said.
“We are excited about where we are at in the arc of progress on King Drive,” he said. “We are excited to have Ray on board to be steering the ship and moving it forward.”