Milwaukee – Urban and rural blight refers to buildings that have been abandoned and left to decay. Studies dating as far back as the 1920s have in various ways linked blighted properties to marked increases in neighborhood crime and reduced economic activity. Most studies focus on abandoned residential properties, but Milwaukee-based real estate developer Phoenix Investors noticed a pattern between its large-scale industrial redevelopments and crime reduction.
Phoenix Investors’ core business is the revitalization of former manufacturing facilities throughout the United States, and as such has significant experience in urban and rural blight abatement. Phoenix Investors is the largest owner of industrial real estate in Wisconsin. Phoenix Investors’ portfolio spans 21 states. A 2018 national survey conducted by NREI ranked Phoenix Investors as having the 28th largest total industrial real estate portfolio.
“Over a decade ago our core focus shifted to the renovation of large former industrial plants and I began to see a correlation between our redevelopments and crime reduction,” said Frank P. Crivello, Chairman & Founder, Phoenix Investors. “This pattern became quite clear across all states and impacted urban and rural blight in a similar way.”
Phoenix Investors has redeveloped multiple properties in Flint, Michigan, which brought hundreds of jobs to the community. Partnering with the Genesee County Land Bank so that it could win a $500,000 grant from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, in 2017 Phoenix Investors donated $50,000 for a blight reduction project abutting its redevelopment of the former Delphi Plant.
In 2015, Phoenix Investors partnered with the City of Milwaukee to demolish the abandoned and sprawling Interstate Forging Industries on Milwaukee’s near north side. It became immediately clear that the old plant had become an oasis for criminal activity given caches of stolen goods and vehicles, used needles, and spent bullets. The blighted complex became a haven for criminal activity that could easily be conducted out of public view. Once a source of jobs for the community, the plant shutdown had instead accelerated the neighborhood’s economic downturn.
The team at Phoenix Investors spent several years working to demolish, remediate, and revitalize the site. In conjunction with the Milwaukee Police Department, Phoenix analyzed four years of crime data from the blocks directly surrounding this facility. By 2017, one year after demolishing the building, overall crime within the surrounding neighborhoods decreased 19 percent. Between 2015 and 2019, total property crimes were reduced by 36 percent, while more serious crimes decreased 32 percent.
“Most often when we complete a major industrial renovation, businesses and homes near our projects began to see investment and improvement,” said Frank P. Crivello, Chairman & Founder, Phoenix Investors. “Our renovations are a catalyst for investment and economic activity.”
Beyond crime statistics, blighted industrial buildings are often a bleak reminder of better times for a neighborhood. Finding and rejuvenating these decaying buildings lowers crime, provides much needed jobs, improves surrounding property values, and ultimately elevates quality of life for the neighborhood.