Stanley’s dynamic leadership propels ongoing revitalization of Milwaukee’s ‘neighborhood of neighborhoods’

As executive director of Near West Side Partners, an association that covers seven vastly distinct Milwaukee neighborhoods, there is never a dull moment nor a typical day in the life of Keith Stanley. 

One moment he could be meeting with the mayor, a local alderman or head of a major anchor institution like Harley-Davison to discuss a long-range vision for the area. The next moment he could be having a discussion with an entrepreneur about plans for starting a business on Vliet Street. An hour or two later he could be working with an Avenues West resident to address food or housing insecurity. 

“The depth and breadth of the ways I come in contact with this community is dynamic,” said Stanley, who noted that everchanging level of collaboration was one of the things that most attracted him to the position. 

Nearly a decade into his role as the nonprofit’s leader, Stanley has used his ability to connect and collaborate to help bring dollars, resources, renewed energy and awareness to Milwaukee’s near west side, which is often referred to as a “neighborhood of neighborhoods.”

Between them, the seven neighborhoods of Avenues West, Cold Spring Park, Concordia, Martin Drive, Merrill Park, Miller Valley and Piggsville have 350 businesses, 15 places of worship, 29,000 employees and 94 nonprofits. Stanley has worked with residents, businesses and companies like Advocate Aurora Health and Marquette University to advance health and wellness, increase affordable housing, reduce crime and strengthen development of the commercial corridors.

His desire to see his hometown – and everyone in it – thrive has fueled his work.

“I’m always excited to get up and drive through my community and say, ‘We can work on this,’” Stanley said. “When I come in the morning it’s hard for me to take a look at yesterday. I always feel like there is so much to be done.”

Stanley knows that community development is a long game and things are not accomplished overnight. That is why, no matter what the day brings, he approaches each one as another opportunity to achieve some small win and “put points on the scoreboard.”

“A lot of times we think we can take on the world,” Stanley said. “Because of the nuances of the challenges that we face, we have to be comfortable with making incremental progress.”

That has ranged from community cleanups to installing 22 two-ton decorative concrete planters and 24 surveillance cameras along 27th Street to help with traffic calming and safety to adding eight public art installations and seven gateway markers to create new points of neighborhood pride. 

Under Stanley’s leadership, the association also has brought in an average of 10 new businesses to the Near West Side each year. Through storefront improvement grants and other resources, retailers such as Pete’s Pops and Triciclo Peru and a farmers’ market have added to the vibrancy of Vliet Street.

After a while, Stanley said, those small things add up and provide the confidence and courage needed to take on a larger project like the association’s latest – Concordia 27. The $16 million development will transform a once vacant four-story building on the corner of 27th and Wells streets into a community center that includes affordable housing, job training, health and wellness services, a commercial, demonstration and incubator kitchen and Near West Side Partners’ office.

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