By Anna Lardinois
William Morse is a man of faith.
Faith, and community.
He found respite from a difficult home life in the community of the Boys Club in his hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina. Love brought him to Milwaukee. And he aims to transform his adopted hometown with love.
Morse, known as Chris, is the man at the helm of the North Avenue Market. Located at 5900 W. North Avenue, in Uptown Crossing BID 16, the market is scheduled to open in September 2022. Housed in the former Associated Bank building, the building will host 12 local vendors who will provide everything from soul food and vegan fare to spa treatments.
In addition to providing food and drink, this $2.7 million development will offer long and short-term office space, space for community events and live entertainment. Highlights of the market include a wheelchair-accessible bar, outdoor patio seating and a drive-through window for food, beverage and retail pick up.
A Milwaukee newcomer, Morse relocated from Kalamazoo to his husband’s native Wisconsin. The pair reside in nearby Washington Heights. As half of an interracial, same-sex couple, Morse was forewarned about Milwaukee’s reputation as the most segregated city in the United States. He was pleasantly surprised upon his arrival, saying, “from the moment that I’ve been here, I have felt welcomed, and I still feel welcome. This feels like home.”
The move meant a career change for the former Boys and Girls Club CEO with a strong background in social services. The change prompted him to ask himself the question, “how do I become a part of the solution in my new home?”
On his list of “dream jobs” was owner of a coffee shop and owner of a bed and breakfast. These types of businesses welcome all patrons and serve as gathering places. Upon reflection, he knew his goal wasn’t to open a hospitality business, it was to create a community space for all. From there, he relied on the adage that has guided him since childhood: “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.”
This epiphany spurred him to create a place that would unite the East Tosa, Pabst Park, Uptown and Washington Heights neighborhoods. And most important, create a safe, inclusive space where all are welcomed. He estimates that 15,000 commuters use the North Avenue corridor. Those travelers are anticipated to have a financial impact on the market, but the market’s key customers are the people who reside in the nearby neighborhoods. Morse thinks this focus on local residents is the key to fostering the sense of community he aims to create.
Finding a location for the market was easy but finding financing to bring this vision to life included challenges. The capital came from Morse’s personal investment, with more than $2 million dollars coming from MEDC, the Milwaukee Development Corporation. This financing allowed Morse to close on the North Avenue building on December 15.
Now, Morse and his team are working feverishly to launch the long-anticipated new market. Neighborhood architecture firm, Galbraith Carnahan Architects (GCA), designed the innovative space and is working hard to connect with market with contractors and other resources needed to keep the project moving forward. Several local vendors have committed to the market, including Bittercube, Opulent Studios, and Arty’s Sweet Talk Cupcakes. The market continues to take applications to fill its remaining vendor openings.
As for the future, Morse is relying on his faith. Of the process, he says, “for me, it started with prayer … it’s in God’s hands and so we’ll just keep going … God just continues to provide.”
To learn more about the North Avenue Market and follow their progress, click here.