A West Allis initiative wants to spark neighborhood improvements for residents and businesses

Officials see neighborhood associations as key to reaching that goal

April 8, 2014

West Allis — Pockets of vibrant, active and safer neighborhoods are the goal of a citywide initiative to encourage formation of neighborhood associations of businesses and residents all over West Allis.

Mayor Dan Devine last week unveiled the initiative that could eventually boost home ownership that in turn tends to help keep neighborhoods in better repair and free of litter.

Home ownership could flourish, he said, "Especially if an area gets a reputation as being a cool place like Brady Street."

"It's got a ton of potential," Devine said of neighborhood associations.

They can make neighborhoods sparkle by holding neighborhood cleanups, can raise money for public art, can take care of parks and even hold holiday events such as round-robins or even erecting a Christmas tree on a vacant lot, he said.

"With younger people moving into the city, we want to engage them," Devine said. Attracting new businesses also is a goal and associations can help with that, he said.

One path to business vibrancy could be encouraging foot traffic that attracts interesting businesses, he suggested. In turn, those businesses could add a unique flavor to their area, he said.

Grass roots

As enthusiastic as city officials are and willing to offer advice, neighborhood associations have to be grass roots, Devine emphasized. They must be citizen-driven.

The city's only formal neighborhood association so far is just that. The Burnham Pointe Neighborhood Association, formally organized more than a year ago, got businesses and residents together to decide what the neighborhood needs and what it can do for itself and then approached the city for whatever help it could lend.

The spark plug of the effort is Citlali Mendieta-Ramos who owns the Antigua Latin Restaurant, 5823 W. Burnham St., with her husband Nicolas.

The couple and other business owners realized that to attract interesting businesses, the commercial area needs a few things. They and residents got together and brainstormed, deciding that priorities seemed to be getting rid of litter, having better street lighting that doesn't fail so often and encouraging better building maintenance including cleaning, she said.

So, the association held a cleanup in November and the city helped by providing a huge trash receptacle and gloves.

"We got a lot more garbage than expected," Mendieta-Ramos said. Another cleanup will be held in May.

Also helping to keep litter in check, the association worked with the city which provided trash receptacles on the street. The association also is working on a grant from the city for better lighting, Mendieta-Ramos said.

Noticeable banners

To increase visibility of the new association, it purchased a holiday banner.

"We got a couple new members from that," she said. This year's plans include a block party in the areas of 60th and Burnham or Beloit, more banners for greater visibility and taking part in the city Christmas parade.

So far, she hasn't seen the building upkeep improvements that members are looking for, but it's still early.

"We've done a few things, they're baby steps but crucial steps," Mendieta-Ramos said. And she is optimistic.

"When people get together, things happen," she said.

The Burnham Pointe Neighborhood Association is roughly in the triangle formed by Burnham Street and Beloit Road and 66th Street.

Alderman Michael Czaplewski applauded the association.

"They have a very good person leading it. She's very aggressive, it has a very good chance if it gets more people involved," he said. But a lot also depends on the group's fund-raising success, he said.

For more information, call the Department of Development at (414) 302-8460.

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