Commentary: Deer District ideal for new museum

Milwaukee Public Museum
The Milwaukee Public Museum.

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:09 pm

Ellen Censky was recently named the new president and chief executive officer of the Milwaukee Public Museum.

She becomes the leader of one of Milwaukee’s most important cultural institutions at a crucial time in its existence.

The museum’s building, completed in 1962, is in bad shape. Burst pipes have damaged collections. The roof leaks and the basement has mold issues. The building’s deferred maintenance is estimated at $87 million.

It needs to be replaced. Early cost estimates are $100 million.

This will be one of the most important civic projects in Milwaukee’s history. It must be done well, and picking the right location is vital for the museum and for the community.

Museum officials have considered several possible locations. Censky says they are down to four in the downtown area.

She declined to name them all, but did say that the Mitchell Park Domes site is no longer under consideration, and the site of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts parking structure is still in contention.

Moving MPM out of downtown to Mitchell Park would have been a bad idea. Downtown is far more dynamic and the city needs to cluster its attractions as close as possible.

Marcus Center president Paul Mathews has pitched the idea of having MPM and Betty Brinn Chidren’s Museum located in a development at the Marcus Center parking garage site at East State and North Water streets. That would create a cultural campus in the middle of downtown.

Another possibility is the lakefront, which could become a museum district with MPM, Betty Brinn, the Milwaukee Art Museum and Discovery World.

But I have a better idea: the Deer District.

Just across the Milwaukee River from the Marcus Center, the Deer District (the development district anchored by Fiserv Forum) is the hottest spot in town. Crowds have packed the new arena for Bucks and Marquette men’s basketball games and several notable concerts. Huge crowds flocked to the district during the NBA playoffs to watch the Bucks on giant outdoor screens. The district’s entertainment block has been an early success.

The Bucks plan to attract additional development around the arena in the Park East corridor and at the former Bradley Center site. The goal is to create a vibrant neighborhood with activity going on 24-7. The museum could help accomplish that goal. The arena is a mostly nighttime attraction. But MPM draws daytime traffic year-round nearly every day (about 550,000 visitors annually).

A mixed-use development at the former Bradley Center site with a new Milwaukee Public Museum, hotel, retail and restaurants would be ideal. The Bucks’ deep-pocketed owners could help provide funds for the new museum.

Hopefully it’s an idea given serious consideration. I asked a Bucks spokesman about it and his response was, “we have no comment.”

Stay tuned.

Get our email updates

Andrew Weiland
Andrew Weiland is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, Weiland is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, and son, Zachary. He is an avid sports fan and enjoys coaching his son’s youth baseball and basketball teams.