From vacant restaurant to job center, City renovates building into critical resource for west side

Friday, August 30, 2019 - 7:46am

The public is invited to the grand opening of Madison’s newest employment center on the City’s west side.

The grand opening will include a ribbon cutting and open house, which will begin at 11 a.m., Sept. 18, at the Southwest Madison Employment Center, 1233 McKenna Blvd Madison, WI 53716.

A number of community members will speak at the grand opening including: Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, Urban League of Greater Madison President, CEO Dr. Ruben Anthony, Alder Barbara McKinney, Miss Black USA 2019 TeKema Balentine and other stake holders in the project.

The event will go as follows:
11 a.m.-6:30 p.m.: Open House
11-11:30 a.m.: gathering and networking
11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. opening remarks, program, food
12:30-6:30 p.m., building tours

Urban League of Greater Madison will provide a free lunch. Staff will lead tours of the new space and provide information to anyone interested in learning more about resources and training.

The Southwest Madison Employment Center occupies the building of the former Griff’s restaurant, which was vacant. The City of Madison owns the building. The Urban League of Greater Madison (ULGM) will operate the Center.  The Urban League was selected through a competitive process in 2016. The Urban League’s mission is to ensure that African Americans and other community members are educated, employed and empowered to live well, advance professionally and contribute to the common good in the 21st Century.

The Center will be open weekdays from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. On Mondays and Wednesdays, there will be extended hours until 7 p.m.  The Center will be open 10 a.m.-noon on Saturdays to increase accessibility to services.

The new job center will provide a number of resources to the community:

  • On-site job training and skills development, including local employer trainings
  • Neighborhood access to drop-in resume and job search support
  • At least six computer workstations available during business hours for self-serve job search
  • Urban League Employment Specialists on-site to answer questions, provide support and coaching
  • Dane County Economic Support Specialist onsite four days a week to assist people in applying for public assistance programs including W-2, FoodShare, BadgerCare/Medicaid and child care

On Aug. 26, 2019, the Urban League kicked-off its first job training class at the new Center. The class is part of a flagship partnership with Exact Sciences to train people for laboratory technician and customer care positions. The Exact Sciences career academy is just one of a number of upcoming resources and classes being offered at the Center. Others include:

  • DANEnet Digital Literacy/Everyone One Madison Class, Sept. 18, call Wizzy at 608-729-1200 to register

Additional classes and workshops will be offered later this year:

  • Work Readiness Academy
  • Additional Exact Sciences academies
  • Trainings in customer service and other careers
  • Child Support Adjustment Clinic
  • Free legal advice to help job seekers reduce barriers to securing employment.

Other future programming will include youth employment support and financial literacy workshops.

With the Dane County Job Center located on the north side, and many adult education and employment training resources located on the South Park Street corridor, many employment resources take an hour or more to get to by bus from the west side.  By bringing training and resources to the west side, the City of Madison hopes to capitalize on existing partnerships with west side employers like Exact Sciences to provide, not just training but neighborhood job opportunities as well.  Operating in its temporary location, while the center was under construction, Urban League has already trained and placed 28 people into jobs with Exact Sciences, all of which pay at least $15 per hours and offer benefits and career growth opportunities. 

History of the building
The city purchased the 3,882-square-foot restaurant in December 2014 for $420,000. The budget to renovate Griff’s was over $1 million, with $80,000 devoted to architectural/engineering design work and about $1.15 million to renovation. The City weighed the best options for the taxpayers when deciding if it should tear down the vacant building or renovate. The renovation was the best and quickest option to get the building up and running as a critical resource in the community. Dorschner Associates was the architect on the project. Amigo Construction was the general contractor.