Beyond being a center of fun and entertainment, would a renewed Sherman Theatre be tangibly beneficial to the community and economy of Milwaukee?
In October 2014, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Center for Economic Development sought to answer this question. Researchers conducted what is called a “socio-economic impact analysis” of the proposed Sherman Theatre revitalization project and turned up some comprehensive results.
A “socio-economic impact analysis” is a common tool used to measure the impact of a proposed project on the businesses and residents of a community. The analysis is done to help the community decide whether to move ahead with a project and, if so, to ensure it has the best possible impact.
In conducting the analysis, researchers started with what they know about the theatre project. To summarize, the theatre is 80-years-old and is one of the few theatres in the area that remains intact (and has also retained its art deco features). The building has a total of 22,000 square feet of space, including the theatre and office and rental space. It was once a center of social life for the community, but has been vacant for decades. If renovated and reopened, it could again be an anchor for the commercial strip and the neighborhood.
Community and Business Indicators
The heart of the analysis involved looking at both quantitative and qualitative aspects of the proposed project, including:
- Community demographics
- Business market analysis
- Community employment and income levels
- Quality of life indicators, such as crime, education, and community resources
In order to ensure the best possible impact of a project, it’s imperative to first have a good picture of the community in which the project is based. The Census indicates that the home of the Sherman Theatre, the Sherman Park neighborhood, is ethnically diverse with 70% of the population being African-American.
Compared to Milwaukee as a whole, there is a higher percentage of high school graduates in Sherman Park. The unemployment rate is also lower than the city average, except for youth between the ages of 16 and 19. In fact, one out of three youth in that age category is unemployed. The socio-economic impact analysis determined that helping to remedy this issue could be a focus area of the Sherman Theatre.
Sherman Park’s average income is comparable to the city’s average, but the neighborhood’s poverty rate is generally lower. However, one out of three youth under the age of 18 in Sherman Park is living in poverty, as is one out of three seniors over the age of 65. Combating this age-specific poverty could be another focus area of the project.
The zip code area in which the Sherman Theatre stands experienced a 20% decline in the number of operating establishments between 2002 and 2012. During those years, decline was more dramatic in this neighborhood than it was for the city of Milwaukee as a whole. Also between 2002 and 2012, there was a 10% decline in the number of employees in zip code area. This, too represented a greater decline than was experienced by the city as a whole.
Of the businesses that are operating, most are fairly small with between one and four employees on staff. About 40% of these businesses work in the fields of healthcare or social assistance.
Economic Impact of the Sherman Theatre
What follows are the estimated results of moving forward with the Sherman Theatre revitalization project, including both its costs and economic impacts. The estimated costs are straightforward, but the economic impacts were calculated using a “multiplier” that presumes that income will be generated and subsequently spent in the same locale, thus multiplying through the community. The results are broken down by two phases of development on the way to project completion.
Phase one is the rehabilitation and renovation of the structure. This is estimated to cost 2.2 million dollars. The estimated economic impact is 3.8 million dollars and 29 new jobs.
Phase two is the ongoing operation of the facility, estimated over the course of three years. The estimated economic impact takes into account rental income, theatre revenues, and salaries of theatre employees, and is estimated at $830,000, plus three new permanent jobs.
The project’s total economic impact (adding both phases together) is 4.6 million dollars, 29 jobs during construction, and three permanent jobs.
Social Impact of the Sherman Theatre
Studies have shown that arts have positive impacts on health, psychological well-being, education, career, civic engagement, and creativity. One study, conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, found that there is a specific connection between arts and economic revitalization—especially in urban areas. The researchers found that impacts on youth include increased graduation rates and decreased criminal activity. Another study, conducted by the National Educational Longitudinal Study, found a link between arts and success in education and career, particularly for poor and underserved students.
What do these conclusions mean for the neighborhood of the Sherman Theatre? Here’s some ideas: Perhaps the project should feature youth as a target audience. Perhaps this will lead to greater academic and career success for these youth. Perhaps the project could have a positive impact on the long-term quality of life in the neighborhood. Perhaps this will mean more employment and less crime.
Until the Sherman Theatre is once again up and running, we can only speculate as to the impacts it could have on the Sherman Park neighborhood, both economically and socially. The signs point, however, to those impacts being positive and tangible. Put simply, the Sherman Theatre could support and increase the quality of life in its home neighborhood and, perhaps, beyond.
A revitalized Sherman Theatre could revitalize the commercial strip on Burleigh Street, improve storefront occupancy rates, increase the number of operating establishments, and boost employment. It could meet the needs of unemployed youth, serve those living in poverty (both youth and elders), and serve the artist of the community by providing an outlet for their abilities and giving them a market.