County might sell or lease O’Donnell Park to Milwaukee Art Museum

Milwaukee County Board Supervisors announced today that they will consider a proposal to sell or lease the O’Donnell Park parking structure and park to the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Northwestern Mutual wanted to purchase the parking structure for $12.7 million. The company wanted to purchase the structure to provide parking for its employees and pledged to preserve and improve the park on top of the parking structure. The company’s planned improvements to the facility were expected to exceed $6 million.

But in December the County Board rejected that proposed deal. Some opposed selling a park property to a private business.

The county still owes about $6 million on the 1,332-space parking structure, which was built in 1993. The structure needs $1.3 million in repairs to its roof. County officials have been debating how to improve and best utilize the facility going forward.

After the proposed sale of the O’Donnell Park property to Northwestern Mutual was rejected, County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic asked the Milwaukee Art Museum if it was interested in taking over control of the property, Milwaukee Art Museum director Dan Keegan said.

O’Donnell Park is important to the Art Museum because about 60 percent of its visitors park there and the museum’s pedestrian bridge connects to the park.

“It just makes sense for us to dig into this,” Keegan said.

Keegan said it is too early to say what improvements the Art Museum would make to the property or what the cost to buy or lease it would be.

“It’s very preliminary,” he said.

County Board’s Parks, Energy and Environment Committee on Thursday will review a proposal that would authorize the county’s corporation counsel to begin discussions with the Art Museum about a possible sale or lease of O’Donnell Park.

“This will be a bold conversation on O’Donnell Park and the future of Milwaukee’s downtown lakefront,” Dimitrijevic said. “These talks will move us forward beyond the impasse on O’Donnell Park. Because the Milwaukee Art Museum is our community partner, we look forward to creating a public-to-public partnership. While the talks are exploratory, we want to engage in robust conversations about what O’Donnell Park will look like in the future.”

Supervisor Patricia Jursik said the discussions could bring new ideas for the future of O’Donnell Park.

“As the Chair of our County Board’s Economic Development Committee and as a Trustee on the Milwaukee Art Museum Board of Trustees, I hope to be a good liaison for both boards in this public to public solution,” Jursik said.  “The Director of the Milwaukee Art Museum, Dan Keegan, is a visionary and could help to provide a world-class solution to activating the public plaza.”

Supervisor Gerry Broderick said he was confident that the conversation between the County and the Milwaukee Art Museum would end up benefiting both parties as well as the region.

“The Milwaukee Art Museum is a regional asset with a world-class reputation,” Broderick said. “These discussions promise to enhance opportunities for the museum and the region. They can bring about a bold and creative vision. I look forward to the outcome of these talks as we look for the best ways to benefit the entire community.”

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