Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 11:00 am
City of Milwaukee officials recently began work to update the Milwaukee Downtown Plan, which serves as a guide for downtown development. “We think the process is an opportunity to take a look at the downtown holistically,” said City Planner Robert Greenstreet.
For the first time ever, city officials are creating a master plan for the entire city. In addition, city officials are creating 12 area plans, including the update of the downtown plan. All of the planning work is expected to be complete by 2010, Greenstreet said.
Once completed, the updated downtown plan will likely be heavily focused on the west side of downtown, which has long been overshadowed by the area east of the Milwaukee River.
“There are a number of opportunities on the west side of the river,” Greenstreet said.
Projects west of the river that will be featured in the updated downtown plan will likely include a dramatic makeover for MacArthur Square, the Park East corridor, development around the Bradley Center and a potential expansion of the Midwest Airlines Center, Greenstreet said.
The MacArthur Square project may be the most ambitious goal of the updated downtown plan. MacArthur Square is a Milwaukee County park that sits on top of a city-owned parking structure just east of the Milwaukee County Courthouse. Many city officials consider MacArthur Square an urban planning mistake that is proving difficult to solve. Access to the park is poor, and people are rarely seen there. It is a vast wasted space. The parking structure does provide much needed parking spaces for the west side of downtown, and the complex includes tunnels that provide access to and from Interstate 43. However, the parking structure’s condition is deteriorating, and city officials say it needs, at minimum, $20 million in repairs.
Since the structure will need to be rebuilt, or at least extensively repaired, officials with the Department of City Development (DCD) say now is the time to consider a dramatic redevelopment plan for MacArthur Square that would repair the parking structure and bring life into MacArthur Square.
Some officials are embracing a plan for MacArthur Square created by Milwaukee-based Planning and Design Institute Inc. and a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee graduate student. The plan calls for reconnecting the square with the city’s street grid (including a bridge bringing Kilbourn Avenue up to MacArthur Square) and commercial development on much of the current unused green space. About 7.25 acres would be available for commercial development, based on the plan.
Nine Milwaukee architectural firms recently participated in a design charrette to create a vision of what a redeveloped MacArthur Square could look like.
“This is the visionary part of (the redevelopment planning),” said DCD spokeswoman Andrea Rowe Richards. “MacArthur Square is the next phase of downtown (redevelopment). Mayor (Tom) Barrett wants to share this with the public. We’re putting this out there to the public for discussion.”
City officials say they are talking to stakeholders around MacArthur Square, including Milwaukee County, the Milwaukee Public Museum and Milwaukee Area Technical College, to keep them updated on the redevelopment plans. In coming months, Greenstreet and DCD Commissioner Richard “Rocky” Marcoux will be presenting the MacArthur Square plans to groups.
“We’ll start rolling this out now,” Greenstreet said. “Rocky and I will be taking this out on the stump. We’ll see if it builds traction (with the public). The general feeling I get from people is that MacArthur Square has been so bad for so long we’ve got to do something. This is an ideal opportunity.”
At the same time, Bradley Center officials are working on plans to develop land around the sports and entertainment arena, which would generate more revenue that would be shared by its tenants, including the Milwaukee Bucks and the Marquette University men’s basketball team, and used by the Bradley Center for improvements. The Bradley Center owns almost the entire block to the north and has hired CB Richard Ellis to examine development possibilities. In addition, the Bradley Center could develop open space adjacent to the building, such as the plaza at the corner of North Sixth Street and State Street.
“There’s a whole lot (of development) going on around us that we have to be cognizant of,” said Bradley Center spokesman Evan Zeppos. “We want to make sure that what we do fits in with everything else.”
Wisconsin Center District officials are considering plans to expand the Midwest Airlines Center. The district plans to have a study done to examine how much an expanded convention center would increase business, what it would cost to build and possible funding sources to pay for the project, said Franklyn Gimbel, chairman of the Wisconsin Center District.
Another targeted area for the updated downtown plan will be St. Paul Avenue between Sixth Street and the Milwaukee River, Greenstreet said. Some projects are already happening there. A $15.6 million remodeling of the train station at 433 W. St. Paul Ave. is transforming it into an intermodal station for trains and buses. Also, Kendall Breunig, the owner of Sunset Investors, is working on a redevelopment project for the 265,000-square-foot former Hack Furniture building located at the southwest corner of North Plankinton Avenue and East St. Paul Avenue. Breunig hopes to create 100,000 to 120,000 square feet of commercial space and about 80 residential units in the building. The train station and Hack Furniture building projects could help attract more development to St. Paul Avenue.
“That’s an area that is ready to pop,” Greenstreet said.
The area of downtown east of the river has “smaller pockets, like along Broadway that I would like to see brought into the catalytic projects,” Greenstreet said.
The downtown plan was created in 1999 and was highlighted by 13 catalytic projects that city officials believed, if they were completed, would spark addition development nearby.
Since then the city has completed or made significant progress on many of those catalytic projects, which include:
• East and West Wisconsin Avenue Revitalization. The plan proposed streetscape improvements, including sidewalk and crosswalk enhancements, trees and pedestrian lighting. That work has been completed. The plan also proposed revitalization of the ground floor of The Shops of Grand Avenue. Although the mall still has a large amount of vacant space, the additions in recent years of ground floor stores Linens and Things, OfficeMax and TJ Maxx have helped liven up Wisconsin Avenue.
• The Third Ward Public Market. After years of planning and fund-raising the Public Market is open. It has struggled some, but Third Ward Business Improvement District officials are making changes, including extending the hours, in an attempt to improve business.
• Park East corridor. The freeway has been demolished, but the land where it once stood remains vacant. However, Chicago-based RSC & Associates could break ground by the end of the year on a pair of hotels on the east end of the Park East corridor. Several other projects are in various stages of development near the corridor, including Manpower Inc.’s new corporate headquarters, which was recently completed, and Mandel Group Inc.’s redevelopment of the former Pfister & Vogel tannery site into several buildings with apartments, condominiums and retail space.
• Expansion of the Riverwalk. Since 1999, additional segments have been added to the Riverwalk, including an extension into the Third Ward.
• Redevelopment of the Pabst brewery. Zilber Ltd. owner and founder Joseph Zilber has began a massive redevelopment project to transform the brewery, which closed in 1996, into a mixed-use urban neighborhood.
• Redevelopment of the train station and post office into a mixed-use complex, including a transit center. The post office remains, but the train station is being redeveloped into an intermodal station for buses and trains.
Since significant progress has been made on so many of the major goals from the 1999 downtown plan, city officials want to establish new goals for the updated plan.
“It was a very good plan,” Greenstreet said. “It needs updating because things have just changed so much downtown since then.”