New Berlin City Center almost full
Ex-alderman’s store one of final pieces

By Brian Huber - Freeman Staff

June 21, 2014

Jeff and Laura Karvala stand behind the register at their store, JLK Outlet, LLC in the New Berlin City Center Thursday.The store is one of the last pieces going into place, meaning the City Center retail space is all but filled.    
Brian Huber/Freeman Staff

NEW BERLIN — Walking about in downtown New Berlin on Thursday with friends, resident Barb Zacher said she was pleased with what the City Center has to offer.

“I’d love to see it keep developing,” she said. “I think it’d be great.”

But there isn’t much more room for new businesses, as the area that makes up the City Center is nearly 100 percent occupied. The City Center, which includes the new developments around the library, the parcel that includes the current Walmart and Pick ’n Save stores, and the Sendik’s Plaza across the street, is all but full.

A day care center is under construction and Dickey’s BBQ Pit is readying its space to open soon. A plot next to a car wash has drawn interest from some restaurants, and is the last major vacant parcel in the City Center, an idea more than a decade in the making.

A monument sign identifying the New Berlin City Center stands at Coffee and Moorland roads Thursday. Behind it is part of the Sendik’s Plaza, which includes a Sendik’s store,
a Dunkin’ Donuts and more. 
Brian Huber/Freeman Staff

The vitality of the City Center is part of what drew former Alderwoman Laura Karvala and her husband, Jeff, to open JLK Outlet, LLC, which had a soft opening several weeks ago and is planning a formal ribbon- cutting today. Karvala said her husband has worked as a purchasing manager, and he is really the driving force behind the store, which carries clothing and accessories for people of almost all ages and sizes.

“We’ve been looking at and actually wanting to do this for the last four years so it’s something we’ve been working on. When it kind of came about, the whole City Center thing kind of opened our eyes as to what should be in there,” she said. “It was a risk we were willing to take. We believe in New Berlin and the City Center surviving and becoming something.”

True to vision

While many may remember the City Center as being a lightning rod of controversy over affordable housing that eventually led to a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, Mayor Dave Ament said that was only part of the story and a signal that the city needed to focus on the original vision of a pedestrian- friendly area mixing shops and residential developments.

“The idea is if we just kept on going the way we were going and sitting around whining about whether we got a black eye from that process or not, and no question we did, it was time to move on,” he said. “So we are trying very hard to get to back into that vision, the small local retail shops along with some of the bigger ones like Sendik’s, Pick ’n Save, that type of operation.”

Ament said a key aspect of that is to find local businesses that will last rather than seeing lots of turnover. Businesses like Round 9 and Great Wraps are doing well, and pedestrian traffic in the area has been quite busy, he said.

“Somebody like Laura’s JLK, really, we’d like to see those types of businesses moving in, although you need some bigger retailers, but it fits the vision they originally had for the City Center of small local shops with a nice pedestrian atmosphere and accessibility and that’s what we are trying to do,” Ament said.

Ongoing road work in the City Center and at Coffee Road and National Avenue will include more signage, decorative pavement, and possibly even a clock tower to provide more of a town square feel to the final product, Ament said.

Down the road

In the future, there is still an area on the south side of the City Center that could eventually see about a dozen single-family homes added, but nothing is very active right now on that front, Ament said.

Elsewhere, the city is beginning to turn its eye toward what it calls “Section 35,” more than a square mile in the southeastern quadrant of the city, from Sunnyslope to Moorland roads between College and Grange avenues, that the city is considering for some large retail, potential residential use athletic fields. Residents of the area are being presented with ideas and asked for feedback, but Ament said things are as much as 10 to 20 years down the road.

In the mean time, Karvala said the early returns on JLK Outlet have been good, with customers providing positive comments and lots of reasons for optimism all around her.

“With other businesses coming it in, it’s nice to see it coming together,” she said.