Public Affairs, Development, Social Media, Digital, Media Relations
The Milwaukee Soldiers Home was established just after the Civil War and sits on the grounds of the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center. It is one of only 43 National Historic Landmarks in Wisconsin, and contains some of the oldest and most historic buildings in the VA system. Though many of its historic buildings remain in use, some of the District's largest and most notable buildings are unoccupied and deteriorating.
After being named one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Most Endangered Historic Places, Mueller Communications was engaged to develop and execute a long-term strategic communications plan to increase awareness of and engagement with the Soldiers Home and influence the VA, who owns the site, to return the District’s vacant buildings to the service of veterans.
We’ve had the opportunity to be very creative in our approach and we’ve seen remarkable results. We have facilitated significant grassroots support through the creation of a Community Advisory Council made up of preservationists, historians, veterans and elected and business leaders. This group has been a springboard for community engagement in identifying a vision for the future use of the District’s vacant buildings. Every member of the council has a different reason they are interested in and concerned about the Soldiers Home. We have been successful in bringing this group together by identifying each point of view and finding the common denominator. Every member of the group has united around the need to return the District’s vacant buildings to their original purpose – the service of veterans. They have truly become ambassadors of the Soldiers Home.
Another key component of our work is media outreach. Over the course of the past five years, we’ve secured hundreds of media placements helping to raise awareness of the District, promote major milestones in our effort and encourage action.
We have also succeeded in community and supporter engagement. A key to our success has been online outreach and engagement. We launched and manage numerous online networks of supporters, including an e-newsletter subscriber list and a highly engaged Facebook and Twitter following. We also designed and continue to manage a website for the Soldiers Home.
Perhaps one of the more interesting ways that we have increased awareness of and engagement with the Soldiers Home was by creating a free, downloadable walking tour app for smartphones. It has been a great tool for getting local residents out to the grounds to experience them firsthand. To-date, the walking tour has been downloaded more than a thousand times.
Most recently, we created an informational video about the Soldiers Home District. The video showcases the grounds and its history and encourages interaction. It’s been viewed more than 70,000 times.
As a result of our outreach and advocacy, there has been significant progress made toward returning the District’s vacant buildings to the service of veterans, including the:
Formation of a Community Advisory Council (CAC) to advocate for the reuse of the Milwaukee Soldiers Home’s vacant buildings for enhanced veteran services;
Completion of work on Old Main to repair the hole that occurred after the rear wing roof collapsed in 2010;
Repair of the roof trusses on Old Main’s rear wing second story, lifting them back into place to prevent another collapse;
Completion of work on Ward Memorial Theater to repair roof trusses and to stop water infiltration;
Reroofing projects for all of the Old Hospital Building and Ward Memorial Theater;
Repairs to the Barracks Buildings, including re-pointing, scraping and painting;
Identification of potential reuse of the Ward Theater by the Milwaukee VA Medical Center; and
VA’s Request for Proposals seeking responses from developers interested in rehabilitating a number of the Milwaukee Soldiers Home District's unused historic buildings through Enhanced Use Leases (EULs).
In August 2016, the VA announced it had chosen The Alexander Co. and the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee to rehabilitate six historic Soldiers Home buildings as supportive housing for veterans. This announcement was years in the making and a direct result of the work of The National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, and support from Mueller Communications. Through this effort, the project recently achieved its goal — a commitment to a $50M+ private investment on the site that will rehabilitate and restore the most prominent, vacant buildings, returning them to the service of veterans.