Student designs invigorate cityscape
Mayor pledges to use ideas to transform South Milwaukee

"Transformation happens from a lot of hard work and big ideas."

Genevieve “Gigi” Szeklinski, assistant professor and chair of Mount Mary’s Interior Design Department

This semester, the Advanced Interior Design class took on an ambitious challenge, to redesign an entire city street from the inside out.

Each student took a vacant building along Milwaukee Avenue in downtown South Milwaukee to innovate the interior with design ideas. The resulting concepts for this project included an ice cream shop, arcade, spa and many more ideas that the students feel could help revive the buildings.

By working with South Milwaukee Mayor Erik Brooks and  Project ReStore South Milwaukee, students presented their 3D renderings and building plans to the community during a poster session in spring, followed by a City Council meeting in late May to get feedback from the council members. He also provided some reflections after the experience with the students.

What is the aesthetic of South Milwaukee now and where do you want to see it go?

We’ve got a historic downtown. I look at South Milwaukee and I want to see something unique. I’m not as much hung up on the aesthetic as I am trying to get an eclectic and unique mix of small independent businesses. So really, we have to be different than Oak Creek. They have an IKEA, I want an anti-IKEA … Our focus is small independent business and a traditional small town feel.

In the end what I really want to do is deliver an energy, a vitality and spirit that is modern-day. It takes bringing in vibrant businesses and events and organizations.  

What kind of creativity did you see when looking at the final student presentations?

All of them are viable types of businesses. They did a lot of good homework and thinking around what South Milwaukee could use; I think that was data-driven but also look-and-feel driven. They tried to be cognizant of the historical nature of the buildings. I was really impressed by that. There was a lot of thought went into this.

What was your favorite student design?

My favorite one was located at 1208/1210 Milwaukee Avenue. It’s a gray building, an awful building, and probably our worst one downtown or maybe the city. The students made it into a half burger bar and arcade. That was great. They played off each other. They clearly worked as a team to figure out what kind of uses are compatible. A perfect mix of two fronts that connected.

If there were a business interested in the students design, what is the next step?

Our vision is to use these in the city and to actually go to the building owners and tell them we love this idea and it’s realistic. We have grant funding to do this, so let’s do this. We’re going to use it. I guarantee you.

Describe what this partnership with Mount Mary has meant to the city.

It was powerful because it was real and it was a win for us. I’m glad we could provide something positive for the students where we get something out of it too. That’s really a great relationship. I asked Gigi, what’s next? Bring us some more.

Article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel