Developers roll the dice for a new downtown Marquette Interchange, Park East projects will change traffic flow

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:32 pm

Commercial realtors and developers are playing a hypothetical game of Monopoly as the Marquette Interchange and Park East Freeway corridor are being reconfigured in downtown Milwaukee.
As the traffic flows into and out of downtown change, which streets will become Park Place and Broadway? Which will become Baltic and Mediterranean? What about utilities and railroads? Hotels or houses?
With the new traffic patterns will come changes in commercial real estate values, as some properties will become prized possessions, while others will become less significant.
And no one wants to be the little shoe.
“Right now, the downtown looks little,” said Michael Mervis, assistant to the chairman at Towne Realty Inc., Milwaukee. “This is going to make downtown bigger. As someone who’s a neighborhood activist, the development of the Park East and the new Marquette Interchange are going to change the way people look at downtown.”
Mervis and Towne vice president Thomas Bernacchi are paying particular attention to where the freeway exit ramps will funnel traffic into downtown.
From the north, traffic will first be able to exit Interstate 43 at the Hillside Interchange, which is the former entry point for the Park East Freeway. In the new interchange, traffic will funnel onto West McKinley Avenue. Traffic also can exit from I-43 at West Highland Avenue, where a new frontage road will head south and become 11th Street. The other option from the north is to continue going south on I-43 and then head east on I-794, exiting at Plankinton Avenue, Jackson/Van Beuren Avenues or Lincoln Memorial Drive.
From the west, traffic will first be able to exit I-94 at 13th Street near Marquette University. Traffic also will be able to continue on I-94 and exit at a convergence of James Lovell Drive, Sixth Street and St. Paul Avenue. The other options will be to hook up with I-43 heading north, where traffic can exit at the Kilbourn tunnel (civic center exit) or the new Hillside Interchange, or continue onto I-794.
From the south, traffic will be able to exit I-43 by continuing east on I-794, by taking a new exit at 10th Street and Michigan Avenue or by continuing north and exiting at the Hillside Interchange. Traffic from the south no longer will be able to exit into the Kilbourn tunnel.
With the new exits, Mervis and Bernacchi see some obvious winners – some parts of downtown that will have more traffic and consequently more commercial real estate value than others. They say those winners will include:
Water Street – With McKinley Avenue shuttling more traffic from the north, west and south, leading directly into Water Street, Milwaukee’s premier entertainment district is likely to continue to surge. New condominium complexes being built at the former tanneries along North Water Street should add to the pedestrian traffic, sending condo residents to the taverns and restaurants that will embrace them with open arms.
Brady Street – The redevelopment of McKinley Avenue and the new condos will create development to essentially connect Water Street with the Brady Street neighborhood. “The north side of downtown will now blend into Brady Street,” Mervis said. Now, all Brady Street needs is a parking garage, Mervis said.
St. Paul Avenue – “That will become a very busy street, because everyone coming from the west will now be getting off on (Sixth) Street and going onto St. Paul and going east. That will become a main drag,” Bernacchi said.
6th Street – “That will become a major north/south thoroughfare,” Mervis said.
Schlitz Park – The business park lost out on the Harley-Davidson museum project and has suffered some other setbacks in recent years, but it could quickly rebound with increased traffic on McKinley Avenue.
North Martin Luther King Jr. Drive – The street will no longer be cut off from the downtown by the Park East Freeway. “I think the biggest winner, ultimately, is the King Drive, when you factor it all in,” Bernacchi said. “Downtown is going to continue to push up King Drive.”
Marquette University – The school fought for the 13th Street exit to be retained as a signature approach to the campus. Also, the new frontage road and reconfigured 11th Street will generate more green space for Marquette.
Of course, increased traffic in some strips of downtown will come at the expense of others.
Bernacchi and Mervis are uncertain about the fates of Wisconsin Avenue and The Shops at Grand Avenue.
With the large office buildings in place, the apex of downtown Milwaukee will continue to be the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and Water Street – before 5 p.m. on weekdays, that is, Bernacchi predicted.
“The heart of downtown in the daytime will always be that corner. But the heart of downtown at night will move eight blocks or so to the north. The nighttime hotspot will be McKinley and Water,” Bernacchi said.
The Grand Avenue’s future may hinge on a handful of wildcards, Mervis and Bernacchi said. Will the Pabst City development succeed in attracting high-end retailers and a movie theater that could detract from the established downtown mall? Will the Potawatomi Bingo Casino relocate from the Menomonee River Valley to downtown to be near the Midwest Airlines Convention Center? What kind of development will take place along the former Park East corridor, and will that development compete with Wisconsin Avenue’s attractions?
“The Grand Avenue? I would put it in the ‘at risk’ category,” Mervis said.
Another wildcard in downtown’s future is the parcel of land located north of Juneau Avenue and east of Water Street. The land is owned by Marshall & Ilsley Corp. and has long been coveted by local developers. It was once even considered as a potential site for a downtown baseball stadium before the Milwaukee Brewers decided to build Miller Park next to County Stadium.
The Water Street land is currently used as a giant surface parking lot. In the past, M&I has insisted it will not sell the land unless the buyer agrees to replace those parking spaces with a large parking garage, according to real estate sources.
With all of the momentum funneling onto Water Street from the reconfiguration of the Marquette Interchange, the McKinley Avenue traffic and the new condo development, the M&I site will become a more prized possession, Bernacchi said.
“Somebody will figure that out. As McKinley gets done, that’s a hot location,” Bernacchi said.
M&I spokesman Mark Furlong acknowledged the parcel’s prime location.
“From time to time, people have brought up an idea there, but nothing compelling. We don’t have a plan to do anything or not to do anything with it. We are trying to stay out of the rumor mill,” Furlong said. “We do have folks that park there. That is a legitimate issue. You have that accurate.”
In general, the owners of real estate along the new hotspots will discover the values of their properties will increase, but so will their property taxes, Bernacchi said.
Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Public Market, which will be constructed beneath I-94 and east of Water Street, will work with the city’s River Walk to link downtown and the Historic Third Ward.
“As for the new downtown, it’s good. It’s all good,” Bernacchi said.
Now, who will be the first to pass “Go”?
Manthey takes communications job for Marquette Interchange project
As freeway lane and ramp closures create confusion, chaos and even anger during the Marquette Interchange reconstruction, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation decided having a competent public information officer for the project was a key priority.
With that in mind, the DOT hired a ringer: Brian Manthey.
Manthey recently joined the DOT as the mouthpiece for the $810 million Milwaukee project, which is expected to be completed in 2008.
“Public information is going to be very critical as the Marquette Interchange project goes forward,” said Don Reinbold, director of the DOT’s Marquette Interchange team.
Manthey applied for the position and went through the standard state hiring procedure of written and oral exams for the position before he was hired, Reinbold said.
“We had a position, advertised it and Brian did an excellent job,” Reinbold said.
Manthey, of course, is no stranger
to Milwaukee.
He spent 11 years as a radio
personality on WTMJ-AM 620. He has since worked at the Wisconsin Sports Authority, Madison Gas & Electric Co., the Milwaukee Admirals and the State Senate Democrats.
In between, he unsuccessfully ran for a State Senate seat.
“Public information is a high priority, top-down, at the DOT on this project,” Manthey said. “Growing up here and working here, when I saw the opportunity to have an impact, I really jumped at it.”
As the Marquette Interchange project was being planned, the DOT encountered resentment in the community. Some of that resentment will continue when traffic becomes a hassle while the project is underway.
However, Reinbold, who regularly meets with community groups and businesses to discuss the project, believes the public now generally accepts the notion that the Marquette Interchange needs to be reconfigured and rebuilt.
“People really are looking to the future, and it’s going to be better,” Reinbold said.
August 20, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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