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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Alderman Nik Kovac Touts the Third District as No. 1

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Nik Kovac was sworn in as Milwaukee alderman for the diverse Third District more than a year ago. This area on the East Side ranges from condos on the lake to the UW-Milwaukee campus to the bohemian streets of Riverwest. Kovac spoke about his first year in office over a drink at the Red Dot, one of many Third District bar/restaurants that counts college students as its main clientele.

What is one of the biggest challenges facing the Third District right now?

The biggest challenge facing the Third District is the biggest challenge facing the city, which is the economy. It is hitting families and the city really hard. We are going to have to make some very difficult decisions this budget cycle. A lot of services we’ve had, we’ll potentially lose. We almost cut libraries last year. People want more recycling picked up; people want their potholes filled; people want police and fire protection. I want all those things, too. But how are we going to pay for them?

What are some of the assets of the Third District?

I think the Third District is beyond compare—not just in the city, but in the world. Look at the amount of access to the lakefront we have, not just as a resource, but the views from Lake Park are unparalleled. And I don’t think there is an environmental resource like the Milwaukee River, with banks that wide and the forest not far from Downtown, in the middle of a driving neighborhood. Combine that with Center Street, Brady Street, North Avenue, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee—I mean, where would you rather live?

There seems to be an ongoing debate about student housing. What is your take on the situation?

No comment. Just kidding. There definitely are some challenges there, but overall it is a huge opportunity and a huge asset. One of the reasons the neighborhoods are still stable and thriving—big picture, it is because of UWM. It provides college graduates, and that is what a thriving city needs. The problem is the balance between kids having a good time going to college, and then people who have been to college, living in the same neighborhood. If you have the right mix on any given block, it works. We have to fix that because it makes the university better to have owner-occupants nearby. Bottom line is how do we keep the university there, how do we keep owner-occupants there in the same neighborhood, so everyone will feel welcome? I would like to see college kids stick around and raise families on the same block they lived on when they went to college.

What types of things do you like to do on your day off?

I’m glad it’s spring so I can play soccer, softball and baseball again. And I think the only thing I enjoy more than playing sports in the fresh air is walking around the city; you notice things you wouldn’t otherwise. Any evening I can listen to Bob Uecker for an hour or two on the porch, I figure I could do a lot worse.