The future of Milwaukee's waterfront needs to include spaces where people from all walks of life can live or enjoy.
That's the message a group of prominent civic and business leaders relayed during a recent panel discussion of the development of the city's river and lakefront spaces.
"In terms of plans for developing along the waterfront, I think everybody agrees that water is one of the things that makes Milwaukee really special," Lafayette Crump, city of Milwaukee development commissioner, said. "Our lakefront, our rivers, it's a real opportunity for us to have development in a special way, and I don't think we've always utilized it as well as we can."
Crump said specifically that the city should ensure continued public access to waterways and that waterfront developments create job opportunities, provide an array of residential options and grow commerce.
Comments from Crump and other leaders came during a panel discussion and downtown boat tour, hosted by Wisconsin CREW. The CREW Network is a professional association for women in the commercial real estate field.
He was joined by James Shields, design principal at Minneapolis-based HGA Architects and Engineers; Lilith Fowler, executive director of nonprofit group Harbor District Inc.; and Phillip Aiello, chief operating officer of Milwaukee-based Mandel Group Inc.
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Development is booming in several areas along Milwaukee's waterways.
Residential projects along the Milwaukee River range from the proposed 32-story luxury apartment tower at 333 N. Water St. in the Third Ward, to a 79-unit affordable apartment project at 1887 N. Water St. downtown. The Couture, a $188 million, 44-story luxury apartment tower, is also under construction near the Lake Michigan lakefront at 909 E. Michigan St.
Milwaukee's Harbor District is home to two major corporate projects, including Komatsu Mining Corp.'s $285 million headquarters and manufacturing facility at at 311 and 401 E. Greenfield Ave. Brownsville-based Michels Corp. is continuing work on its R1VER development northwest of First and Becher streets. It includes offices, apartments, retail space and a hotel.
Port Milwaukee has also been busy lately. Milwaukee-based Marek Landscaping recently signed a long-term lease agreement with the port, and construction could soon begin on a $31.4 million agricultural product export facility. Port Milwaukee's 2020 cargo volume was the highest it had been in seven years.
Mandel Group is also planning a massive mixed-use district called Harbor Yards, located at at 318‐338 South Water St. and 322 East Florida St. Aiello said the plan is to create 150 apartments, a 150,000-square-foot office building, a 160-room hotel and a parking structure. Those plans could change, he cautioned.
The development firm is looking to redevelop the former Kurth Malt and cold storage site because it's in an area seeing explosive growth.
Shields said the city and other players need to prevent the closing off of Milwaukee's waterways through gentrification. He said this can be observed in places where prime sites with water frontage are developed mainly for high-end uses.
"One of the challenges is trying to figure out how we can do public spaces along the waterfront that are just for everybody," Shields said.
A way to do that, he said, is provide ample programming at those public spaces that invites people to the water. One idea is to ensure good access points for fishers or boaters.
One big claim to fame for Milwaukee is its extensive public RiverWalk network. Panelists agreed the RiverWalk does a good job at connecting downtown to nearby neighborhoods, such as Walker's Point and the Third Ward. Fowler hopes that extends farther into the Harbor District.
The waterfront is seeing different types of developments attracted to it, depending on the part of town it's in. For instance, the Komatsu project is happening in the Harbor District near the port.
Fowler said land-use planning should center around where it makes most sense to locate certain projects.
"Here around the port proper we really wanted to preserve an industrial core to our waterfront," she said. "Milwaukee as a manufacturer produces things that are too big to ship out on a train or a truck. So, that stuff has to go out by port. If we strain our port so it's no longer able to do that, we basically lose those manufacturers."