County supervisors seek budget funding for Mitchell Park Domes plan

Committee approves plan to seek private hemp clone grower at Domes greenhouse

The Mitchell Park Domes

Last updated on March 17th, 2020 at 01:37 pm

Milwaukee County supervisors want to add funding in the county budget for the plan to redevelop the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory Domes.

The board’s finance and audit committee on Tuesday approved a proposal to set aside $108,000 in the county budget for the continued development of a long-term plan to repair and preserve the Domes and revitalize Mitchell Park. The full board will consider the budget amendment on Nov. 12.

“The Domes are a beloved cultural institution that we have made a commitment to repair and preserve,” said Theodore Lipscomb, co-sponsor of the amendment. “It is important that we continue to make real progress at the Domes in 2020.”

In August, the Domes Task Force recommended a $66 million plan to restore the Domes and redevelop Mitchell Park. Funding for the plan, developed by Montana-based consulting firm ArtsMarket, Inc., would come from public and private sources, including $13.5 million raised through a private sector campaign; another $13.5 million from Milwaukee County; $26 million from historic tax credits; and $12 million from opportunity zone funds.

The plan also calls for the creation of a new nonprofit entity, the Mitchell Park and Domes Conservancy, that would partner with Milwaukee County to operate the park.

That plan follows a study released last year by ConsultEcon and HGA that presented several options for the future of the Domes, ranging from doing nothing to tearing the Domes down to re-envisioning the Domes as a destination education, conservation and recreation attraction. In March, another firm put forward a plan to integrate the Domes experience into a new 284,000-square-foot Milwaukee Public Museum building on the site of the current Domes.

Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman voted against the budget amendment Tuesday, saying it would mean “spending good money on a bad project.”

“We’re spending $100,000 to study the proposal of the consultants,” he said. “We’re hiring consultants to analyze the previous consultant’s analysis of the previous consultant’s analysis. At what point do we make a decision? … We are wasting money.”

The amendment calls for redirecting money from within the proposed budget; it wouldn’t involve additional tax levy.

Separately, the county’s Parks, Energy and Environment Committee on Tuesday considered a plan from supervisor Sylvia Ortiz-Velez to lease one of Mitchell Park’s six greenhouses to a private operator to propagate hemp clones. She said the plan could bring in as much as $1.6 million annually for the county parks, based on a report from Boulder, Colorado-based consulting firm R.B. Mack Consulting Inc.

Her resolution, approved in a 4-1 vote by the committee, called on the parks department to issue an RFP for a private entity to lease one of the greenhouses for hemp clone propagation.

Ortiz-Velez said clean, certified clones grown in the county’s greenhouse would meet a need among farmers statewide. Cloning involves taking a cut of a stem or taproot of a mother hemp plant to cultivate new plants.

“Clean,  certified clones are valuable to hemp industry in our state,” she said. “They can provide high quality consistent plants that can be grown in sustainable methods. Hemp farmers in Wisconsin buy them in bulk and often they are purchased from out of the state.”

However, Jim Tarantino, director of recreation and business services for the county, said the greenhouses are currently “heavily utilized” for growing flowers for the Show Dome, suggesting there isn’t capacity to rent out the space.

Supervisor Marcelia Nicholson, who voted in favor of the proposal, said the county needs to think of creative solutions to fund the Domes.

“This seems somewhat like a catch 22,” she said. “We have these greenhouses growing show flowers, but if we don’t figure out a sustained revenue source for our Domes, there’s a real chance we won’t have any greenhouses to grow any show flowers.”

In April, a study commissioned by the county board determined that the county’s greenhouses were too small to accommodate a successful industrial hemp growing operation. Ortiz-Velez claimed there were numerous flaws with the report, including its of data that predated the 2018 Farm Bill.

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Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits and education for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism. In her free time, Lauren enjoys hiking, kayaking, and seeing live music.

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