The Menomonee River Valley was once known as the industrial powerhouse of Milwaukee. It then became infamous as a swath of blighted land as factories shuttered. After decades of redevelopment efforts, it is widely recognized as an economic and environmental success story, driven by the city of Milwaukee along with other private and public partners.
Since those efforts began, the area has had “300 acres redeveloped, more than 50 companies … move in, more than 5,000 jobs and 60 acres of parks and trails,” said Corey Zetts, executive director of Menomonee Valley Partners Inc.
It now boasts major centers of industry, tourism and recreation. Over its course of revitalization, the Valley set new standards of sustainable development in the city.
1986: The closure of Menomonee River Valley factories happened gradually, starting around the 1970s. “I would say the nail in the coffin was ’86, and that’s when the Milwaukee Road Shops closed,” Zetts said. This created 120 acres worth of blighted buildings between where Palermo’s and American Family Field exist today.
1998: The city and other partners created a land use plan for the Valley, a blueprint for its revitalization. The nonprofit group Menomonee Valley Partners was formed a year later to facilitate those efforts.
2002: A national design competition for the former Milwaukee Road Shops site was held, a precursor to the creation of the Menomonee Valley Industrial Center and 60 acres of parkland.
2006: Palermo’s established itself in the Valley’s west end, the first to do so. Before that, Zetts said, some were skeptical of whether the area would attract companies, given the standards set by the city, like sustainable design guidelines and requirements that companies create meaningful, well-paying job opportunities.
2013-14: These two years are milestones in the Valley becoming an attraction for residents and visitors. Three Bridges Park opened in 2013, marking the first big park space in the Valley. Potawatomi opened its hotel the next year, creating an overnight destination in the Valley.