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Villard Square Learning Campus

Milwaukee Public Library

Innovation Summary

Through a public-private partnership and the collaborative efforts of key stakeholders, an aging facility was replaced with a new, mixed-use development of apartment housing above a 12,770 sf Library. The Library worked with the developer and other agencies to obtain funding using tax credits to make the project viable.

Problem Statement

The Milwaukee Public Library developed a facilities plan which proposes three new library models that reduce operating costs through energy savings and lower staffing levels. The three models include an Area Library which combines two traditional neighborhood libraries into one larger facility serving a larger area and population base; an Express Library which operates as a pick-up and drop-off satellite facility using staffing from an Area Library; and a Learning Campus, built as part of a larger, mixed-use development and shares operational costs with the partnering entity. Administrative staff tested the viability of the plan through a cost-benefit analysis and after receiving an encouraging report, proceeded to seek capital funding through the City’s budgeting process. The diverse community served by the Villard Avenue Library was identified as one of the three that would be best served by a Learning Campus model, which supports early literacy, educational attainment, workforce development, small business development, and is designed to serve as an anchor for a variety of entities that enable individuals to develop their capacity to “learn and earn.” This model addresses the needs in neighborhoods that display the greatest concentration of family risk indicators, including poverty, single parent households, elevated high school drop-out rates, and others. This strategy will help mitigate these risks by offering intense training opportunities in partnership with other agencies, helping the city meet its goals related to jobs, education, workforce and economic development, and safety. Villard Avenue Library was among six aging facilities selected for replacement and had not yet been approved for capital funding when the Library first became engaged in discussions with the developer, Gorman & Company, about a possible partnership. Other stakeholders included the community organization and long-time supporter, Northwest Side Community Development Corporation, City elected officials, and the City’s Department of Community Development.


The partnership benefited the Library and the City by making it possible to build a new public facility at a reduced cost, and the developer’s application for tax credits was more attractive and competitive with the library as a key component. The project represents an investment of over $11 million in the Villard Avenue Neighborhood. Financing was provided by Boston Capital as a tax credit investor, Harris Bank and IFF as lenders, Tax Credit Assistance Program (TCAP) and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Section 1602 funds from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Corporation (WHEDA), and Community Development Block (CDBG) grants from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce and the City of Milwaukee. The City of Milwaukee committed $1,291,500 to purchase the library space and an additional $1,458,500 to build-out the library. The latter was facilitated by partnering with the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee (RACM) to utilize New Market Tax Credits to reduce the City’s capital outlay for the project. There was additional project funding from private sources. Villard Square offers grand-family housing, and is the first Milwaukee-area housing development funded through Low Income Housing Tax Credits to include a public library. Through TCAP and ARRA, WHEDA awarded a $1.29 million loan to cover the gap left by low tax credit prices. In 2009, WHEDA allocated over $7.6 million in tax credits to the development. The Library’s special features include a teen area, children’s window seat story area, study rooms, convertible community/reading room with 2-sided fireplace, automated book sorting, high-speed Internet access and over 50 computers, mostly laptops funded by the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant as part of ARRA , and integrated public art. Some of the green features include compact fluorescent lamps, room occupancy sensors, radiant floor heat, and bamboo furnishings (a rapidly renewable source).


The success of the award-winning Villard Square Library is evidenced by its dramatic ascendance in rank relative to eleven other branch libraries for circulation and patron visits. One year ago, Villard consistently ranked among the bottom 3 or 4 branches for circulation, and is now among the top 4 after an increase in circulation of 107% y-t-d. Patron visits are up 91% over the same period. Registrations for new card-holders y-t-d are up 256% over the same period last year. The Villard Square Library branch manager is working collaboratively with the developer’s management company staff to provide outreach to Villard Square’s most immediate patron base, the tenants in the apartments above, many of whom meet the criteria for the developer’s preference for “grand-families,” where grandparents are the primary caregivers. They are also partnering with community agencies such as local neighborhood associations and businesses, the WI Well Women to do health-related programs, the Parenting Network to do programming on Grandparenting, the local bank branch to do programs on home-buying, and more. MPL and City officials negotiated favorable development and condominium agreements to protect the current and long-term interests of all parties, including holding an equal number of votes in the Condominium Association. A new LLC was created that purchased the Library space and funded the build-out using a combination of City, Federal, and private funds. It’s believed this is the first public library to be built with the help of Federal New Market Tax Credits. The partnership was highly instrumental in helping the Milwaukee Public Library meet the goals of its facilities plan, which calls for two more Learning Campuses to be built as mixed-use developments. This project now serves as a model for any future partnerships that will help advance the Library’s goals.