Downtown Milwaukee: Is it time to update the plan?

    Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:41 pm

    I must admit with age DOES come wisdom. I used to have a difficult time understanding why we had to drag our feet and spend countless hours studying, analyzing and planning when we knew in the end what the final results would be. I don’t know who originally coined the phrase (and I certainly do not take credit for it) "What you do not measure, you cannot manage," but I certainly get it now.
    That leads me to the topic I wish to address today. Is it time for us to revisit the Downtown Milwaukee Master Plan that was originally adopted in 1999? I was fortunate to be able to participate in the development of the Downtown Master Plan, which is available online at
    The process was long and very well thought out. It was inclusive and very thorough.
    In the end, the plan identified 13 catalytic projects. A road map and benchmarks, so to speak. A mechanism the community utilized to establish our priorities. Some of those catalytic projects included Wisconsin Avenue revitalization (it’s a painful process, but the streetscape is over 50-percent completed), The Historic Third Ward Public Market (it’s open folks), the Park East Redevelopment project (underway and moving slowly, but moving), the transit Connector (the trolley at the time – we love it and struggle to pay for it each year, but it’s only a temporary solution), Park Once (in development stages) and others.
    Of the 13 catalytic projects, at least 10 are significantly underway. But downtown Milwaukee has changed dramatically in the last seven years since the adoption of this plan. We have opportunities that did not exist before and new issues that are circling about with little to no direction (at least as far as the general public is concerned).
    What about a long range transportation plan? What about the future of the Bradley Center, the next phase of the convention Center, or the need for more retail? What will happen to our wonderful parks downtown? What about the many organizations that work so hard to program and bring hundreds of thousands of people to our downtown and help drive our economy?
    Not to say that people are not working diligently and passionately on addressing these issues, but how do we as a community prioritize them? How do we pay for them, and most importantly, do we want them or have the desire to sustain them?  I am not implying that an updated master plan is the "end all be all." I am just simply wondering if it’s time?
    Now I haven’t discussed this with the mayor or the commissioner of the Department of City Development. I know it takes time and resources. One could say, “Why update it when it hasn’t been 100-percent implemented yet?"
    I contend that it needs to continue to be a living and breathing document.  I believe that it opens the door for all the unanswered issues to be put on the table and to be addressed.
    Obviously, not once and for all, because as long as our renaissance continues (and I am certain it will), new issues will come to the forefront. Let’s measure it again and manage it as well.
    What do you think?

    Beth Nicols is executive director of Milwaukee Downtown, Business Improvement District (BID) #21.


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