The Recap

Date: June 1, 2015 8am-5pm
Location: Grand Avenue Mall/Milwaukee Downtown BID, Avenues West Neighbors, Layton Blvd West Neighbors, Mobile Design Box, Pabst Brewery, Burleigh Street Corridor
Website and More Information:
Description: NAIOP WI , the Commercial Real Estate Development Association and NEWaukee present the inaugural Empty Storefronts Conference, a day-long conference that focuses on holistic solutions, national trends, best practices, and success stories that lead to action plans and spark ideas to fill empty storefronts. The Empty Storefronts Conference features national and local speakers that have implemented practices and tactics in their own communities and across the country to address vacant storefronts. The inaugural Empty Storefronts Conference is hosted in storefronts and neighborhoods across Milwaukee.

NAIOP Wisconsin
City of Milwaukee
Baker Tilly
Korb Architects and Associates
Associated Bank
Urban Milwaukee
Majic Productions
Zilber LTD
Milwaukee Small Business Week

Attendance: 187 participants
Media: 14 articles
Attendee Geography: 5 States



Access to Capital – Joe Pieper
Cooperative Commercial Ownership for Neighborhood Revitalization. Colleen O’Conner Toberman
Early Action Steps to Fill Empty Storefronts – Joel Bookman
Future Development in Milwaukee – Dan Casanova
How a City Can Impact Storefronts. Veronica Gonzalez
Micro-Lending for Small Business – Kiva
Mobile Design Box – Ryan Tretow
National Trends – Emily Robbins
Pabst Brewery Past, Present and Future – Dan McCarthey
Retrofitting Suburbia – June Williamson
The Impact of Empty Storefronts on Communities – WEDC
LBWN Silver City Business Plan Competition – Will Sebern

Feedback and Survey Data:

What is your profession?
Broker 4.5 %
Developer 5.1 %
Small Business Owner 16.5 %
Artist / Creative / Entrepreneur 9.1 %
Economic Development 31.4 %
Business Improvement Director 10.5 %
Philanthropy 2.0 %
Other 20.9 %

Which content was the most valuable to you personally?
Temporary / Pop Up 50.0 %
Creative Placemaking 45.5 %
Small Business Sessions 22.7 %
Policy 27.3 %
Programming 9.1 %
Other 13.6 %

Would you attend an annual Empty Storefronts Conference if there were new neighborhoods, topics and speakers?
Yes 81.8 %
No 0.0 %
Maybe 18.2 %

Do you think it would be valuable to start and empty storefronts work-group?
Yes 45.5 %
No 9.1 %
Maybe 45.5 %

What did you personally take away that you can implement?

It really increased our interest in pop up shops and the potential to partner with other small business owners. We will also be partnering with WWBIC for their upcoming classes that we didn’t know about before.

Love the idea of pop-up to fill in the blanks in Milwaukee’s commercial corridors.

Connections with others in the field.

Important factors to consider when trying to improve empty storefronts.

RetailWorks recommendations and ideas for redevelopment.

Three solid networking leads, furthering our existing programming showcasing creative entrepreneurs.

Fresh new approaches to filling storefronts.

I feel that the information presented was helpful and will try to use some of the innovative and energy creating ideas.

Start with small projects first.

Business Plan Contest was great idea.

The economics and politics of empty storefronts.

Creative ideas to draw in potential businesses and financial strategies for start ups or facade improvement.

Alternate funding sources for clients that don’t fit into traditional boxes.

Knowledge of different programs from shot-term to sustainable downtown recruitment will help us in structuring our framework.

Ideas that can help client communities succeed.

That it’s easy to start the revitalization process. The hardest part is sweat equity. A little goes a long way.

Ideas to activate building facades of vacant spaces.

Several creative ideas and partnerships to fill storefronts.

What other topics or speakers would you like to see if we hosted a 2nd Empty Storefronts Conference?
Mentor-ship – how to identify leaders in Milwaukee that we can learn from.

How to create that market in small towns and cities.

Specific policy on vacant buildings- Department of Neighborhood Services should present.

International City Pop Up Shop concept out of London.

Logistics and more details about how to implement the ideas.

Perhaps integrated creative place making panel with creatives, business and government. Practical implementation.

BID directors who have been successful in dealing with either difficult or absentee owners.

Recruitment techniques that work. Resources that all communities should offer to answer small
business questions from those considering start ups.

Continue to focus on policy and best practices in revitalizing commercial corridors – beyond temporary uses.

Perhaps a panel of store owners/residents in various neighborhoods, particularly some of the struggling neighborhoods.

More in depth on available grants, etc.

What can be done about occupied, but detrimental storefronts? Deferred maintenance, disrepair, or absent landlords.

Place making, Does Pop up works in small cities/ counties, what works in retail recruitment in different sized communities – policy, programming, innovative solutions etc.?

Maybe a couple of inner ring suburbs in addition to the City neighborhoods.

More on pop-ups. As well as more creative long term solutions. I liked the cooperative group from MN. More groups like that. maker spaces, co-ops

More co-working speakers.

What policy, practice or initiative could the city introduce to help small business fill empty storefronts?

Grants/Discounts on storefronts that have been vacant for a longer period of time.

No cost pop up shops rent incentives for empty storefronts.

Criteria and guidelines for non-retail ground floor uses.

Oakland model of curated, marketed pop up ‘districts’.

Fine property owners who leave storefronts vacant over an extended period of time.

Have money available to have the furnishings that can turn around on a dime.

Creating an environment that is open to such things.

In Washington DC, H Street put laws in place to target property owners who let their buildings become dilapidated and blighted. The fines had escalators built in and motivated property owners to improve their spaces. In our City and other Cities, you see better way of connecting absent landlords to pop-up store vendors to facilitate an easier way of working out short term use of the space.

Place making and different financing instruments are a must but innovative solutions like Pop-Ups and Co-Ops are also interesting to see working.

Provide loan preference for businesses to locate in storefronts in business districts over strip malls.


“Thanks again for the invite, it was definitely well run and executed.”
-Eric Ho, Speaker
Founder, miLES

“I had a wonderful time at the conference yesterday. There was great turnout and the food, venues, speakers were all awesome. I am sure there were some bumps on the back-end but I just wanted to say congrats for pulling it off and that I am truly impressed. Thanks so much and I hope you are celebrating your success!’
-Lauren Stinson, Speaker

“My name is Linh Nguyen and I am the new Kiva Zip fellow in Milwaukee. I just wanted to reach out to you and introduce myself. Thanks for having me at the Empty Storefronts Conference! As Lauren said, it was such an innovative event and I learned a lot about Milwaukee and all the exciting projects going on in the City as a newcomer.”
-Linh Nguyen, Participant

“Our Chamber President, Darien Schaefer, let me know recently you had an amazing conference on an issue close to our heart. I am away from Lake Geneva but would love to get a copy of materials, videos or anything of this absolutely amazing program. We really need this program for us in Lake Geneva. I am on the Business Improvement District Board for the City. I return this Sunday and am available next week to meet. Let me know what is available and appreciate your helping our City.”
-Andrew Fritz, Participant
Managing Partner, Historic Hospitality, LLC

“Hats off to you and the NEWwakee team for putting together such a great conference. I really enjoyed myself and got a lot of value out of the event. It’s one of the most creative conferences I’ve ever attended. I plan conferences at work, so I can appreciate the logistical nightmares you went through to visit so many different (and not event-friendly) places. I hope to take some of the ideas I got and apply them to my own events. I’m really impressed by your team. I certainly hope NEIC will be able to send a representative to speak or attend if you do this event again next year. Thank you!”
-Emily Robbins, Spearker
Senior Associate, Finance & Economic Development, National League of Cities

“Thank you so much for including me in the Empty Storefront Conference. Kudos on a job well done (and I might be stealing the bloody mary bar idea for events!). It was so great to learn more about Newaukee and the work you’re doing, learn about local economic development strategies in the region, and see MKE for the first time.”

I also wanted to thank you for the invite to the popup conference on Monday, June 1st. It was really interesting and learned a lot.

If you could offer some suggestions on organizations I should check out I would appreciate it, and if there is anything I help with I’d gladly offer to volunteer even with your side projects as they sound very interesting to me and I would enjoy working with you.”
-Aron L Moberg, Participant

“Good conversation for sure. I am spreading the word about how comprehensive and downright awesome the event was!”
-Matt Taub, Participant
Reporter, Daily Reporter

“Nice job today – I know how much work goes into these conferences!”
-Lyn M. Falk, Speaker
President – Retailworks, Inc, and “I LOVE That Display!”

“I attend over 50 conferences a year and this was the one of the most innovative and useful conferences I ever attended. Also, let me know when you are out in the Bay Area next.”
-Sarah Filley, Speaker
Cofounder & CEO PopupHOOD

“The kind of conference you just conducted is difficult to pull off….and you succeeded spectacularly. I got to attend many of the sessions and one our staff members Martha Cannon attended as well. We were really impressed.”
-Dan Steininger, Participant
President, BizStarts

“I do hope this note finds you exceptionally well, and recovered after a hectic planning process and ultimate event!

Speaking on behalf of myself, and perhaps Sarah and Popuphood, we not only enjoyed ourselves immensely, having made new friends and contacts, we expanded horizons, sensed the energy around the issues, and internalized no shortage of perspectives. The event, was amazing! I know, because I went to another conference over the Thursday and Friday, it just didn’t and never does have that special vibe. That one, you know, you wish you could bottle and take with you … where minds converge and you are evolving something of substance forward.

The talents and efforts of you and the team were tangible and clearly evident to those who participated. Your presentation, for me personally, inspiring and useful! I am sure there are things you’d do differently and things perhaps entirely unexpected that played out, but really, it came together and I suspect you learned heaps from the planning and over-all experience, and I’d venture to add that all participants stepped away better for the opportunity. I know I did!”
-Amanda Soskin, Participant

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