Commentary: Save the Domes

A rendering of the reimagined Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory campus.

There are a lot of exciting things happening in Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin lately.

2020 is shaping up to be a huge year for the city and region. Milwaukee will host its biggest event ever, the Democratic National Convention. The Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits will also be a big deal for the region. Both of those events will provide a massive economic impact and will showcase Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin to the world.

In addition, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s restoration of the Warner Grand Theatre will be completed in 2020. The MSO is raising $139 million for the project and its endowment. The revitalization of the 88-year-old building will provide a spectacular new venue for the MSO and will further enhance the cultural offerings for Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin.

This stuff matters, big time. Tourism is vitally important for the region’s economy. And cultural amenities like the MSO’s concert hall are vital to help our region attract and retain talent. In order for our area businesses to grow, and our region’s economy to produce new companies, southeastern Wisconsin needs to be able to attract the best and the brightest talent. Talented people can live anywhere. Why will they want to live here? We need to provide a high quality of life to convince them to do so.

Meanwhile, another important quality of life project for Milwaukee is taking shape, and hopefully it moves forward.

The Mitchell Park Domes, an iconic landmark in Milwaukee but an underappreciated asset by many who live in the area, are literally crumbling. Three years ago, the Domes were closed after a chunk of concrete fell from one of the structures. Repairs were made and the Domes reopened, but a long-range permanent solution is needed.

Many of Milwaukee’s most iconic cultural institutions were built during the 1950s and ‘60s and are in need of major upgrades to last for the next generation. The Domes were completed in 1967.

A new plan to save the Domes is promising but costly. The $66 million plan calls for a mix of public and private funding and it calls for improvements that will make the Domes more attractive and more viable.

The plan’s recommendations include a restaurant, a new events pavilion, outdoor and indoor food service, an improved amphitheater and outdoor and indoor gardens.

This is just what the doctor ordered for the Domes. Public-private partnerships are the best way to maintain parks like this and make them more attractive. Instead of the Domes being just a nice place to see some plants and flowers, they need to become a more attractive destination for events like weddings and receptions. That requires better facilities and food and drink offerings.

And, a possible partnership with the Medical College of Wisconsin could help bring in valuable research grant funding.

Hopefully the County Board and private donors get behind this plan to transform the Domes into a top attraction for the area.

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Andrew 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, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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