Longtime local fashion designer Kelvin Haydon wanted an affordable location to operate his studio and a retail storefront.
But instead of the Historic Third Ward, or another trendy area, Haydon is opening in Milwaukee’s central city — the result of winning a business plan contest that comes with cash and business services totaling around $10,000.
Haydon will move from his home studio, in the Merrill Park neighborhood near Marquette University, to a building at 2025-2027 W. Fond du Lac Ave. He plans to open there in early 2016.
For Haydon, it will be a more visible location, with space to sell his evening gowns, dresses, suit jackets and other designs.
And, for the business district, Haydon’s operation will help revive a well-known property in a neighborhood affected by poverty and crime that also is seeing new development.
“It’s such a prominent building,” said Jacqueline Ward, executive director of the North Avenue Marketplace Business Improvement District, which sponsored the business plan contest.
The district is funded by special assessments on commercial properties within its borders, which run on W. North Ave. between N. 8th and N. 27th streets and W. Fond du Lac Ave. between N. 17th and N. 27th streets.
The district’s board wanted to fill the neighborhood’s commercial vacancies and decided to stage a business plan competition to attract a tenant for the two-story building.
The 4,300-square-foot building was sold in 2013 to MC Fond Properties LLC for $39,000, according to city assessment records. MC Fond has made extensive renovations, and the building now has an assessed value of $83,600.
MC Fond’s registered agent is Michael C. Ford, whose management consulting firm, SMB Group Consultants LLC, operates on the building’s second floor.
Ford, a former sales and marketing vice president at ManpowerGroup, decided to redevelop the building in part because it’s near some longtime businesses, such as Columbia Savings & Loan, and is within an active business improvement district.
Also, the brick Victorian-style building, which city records say was constructed in 1893, has character, Ford said.
Haydon will operate his design business, including a storefront, on the building’s first floor.
“It’s not going to be run of the mill,” Haydon said about his designs, which he described as “ready to wear, with a little bit of an edge.”
Along with providing greater visibility, the new location offers more space than Haydon’s home studio. He hopes to expand his business with the goal of hiring employees.
The business improvement district is providing Haydon $5,000 to help cover his start-up costs, as well as legal advice and other technical assistance valued at around $5,000, Ward said.
“It’s not like they’re going to just leave me on my own,” Haydon said.
Meanwhile, the building is attracting other new tenants.
The business improvement district plans to move its office there from 2347 W. Fond du Lac Ave., Ward said.
Also, Nakita Watkins, owner of Ms. Clean Cleaning Service, might open her firm’s office there, Ward said. Watkins finished second in the business plan competition.
The contest is similar to one that another nonprofit group, Layton Boulevard West Neighbors, staged in 2013 for a renovated 2,000-square-foot storefront at 3519 W. National Ave. The winner was Our Daily Salt, which makes handmade wooden cutting boards and bowls.
North Avenue Marketplace Business Improvement District’s competition drew around 20 entries, with five finalists.
Along with Haydon and Watkins, the other finalists were Kendale Allen, a videographer and photographer; Ailsa Stokes-Hardy, who pitched a plus size resale store, and inventor and tinkerer Walter Townsend.
Ward said the judges chose Haydon in part because of his long track record, his significant client basis and the unique nature of his business.
“The type of business he has, we think, will potentially bring some people to the neighborhood who might not otherwise come to the neighborhood,” Ford said.
Haydon has been doing fashion design for around 20 years. He previously worked at such companies as JH Collectibles, a now-defunct Milwaukee-based manufacturer of children’s clothes.
“I’ve always been artistically inclined,” he said.
The neighborhood around the intersection of W. Fond du Lac and W. North avenues is marked by boarded-up homes and vacant lots.
But there also are positive signs, including the nearby Alice’s Garden community gardening plots, 2136 N. 21st St., and the $17.5 million St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care Bucyrus Campus, which is to open in September at 2450 W. North Ave.
While some Milwaukee designers have gravitated toward the downtown area, Haydon likes the idea of opening his shop on W. Fond du Lac Ave.
He notes the heavy traffic that passes by the building, particularly with people commuting to and from downtown.
Also, Haydon figures his business will stand out in that location.
“I want to be unique,” he said.