Harbor District unveiling plans for new parks, riverwalk

Real Estate Spotlight

More public space, amenities and access to the waterfront.

Those are the suggestions members of Harbor District Inc. have been hearing for the past year from community members interested in the neglected 970-acre area located just south of Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward.

The Harbor District water and land use plan community input meetings will be sharing plans and looking for feedback on new parks and riverwalk that would expand on new waterfront access being developed as part of the Take Me to the River project pictured above. The project above is planned for the east end of Greenfield Avenue.
The Harbor District water and land
use plan community input meetings will be sharing plans and looking for feedback on new parks and riverwalk that would expand on new waterfront access being developed as part of the Take Me to the River project pictured above. The project above is planned for the east end of Greenfield Avenue.

The nonprofit group was formed by the City of Milwaukee about two years ago to try to tackle what should be done with the area, which has about nine miles of waterfront.

On April 25 and 27, Harbor District Inc. will host two water and land use planning meetings to unveil its proposals, and also seek additional feedback.

“We get a lot of suggestions, but one thing is loud and clear: people want public space, public amenities and access to the waterfront that has been off limits to them for 100 years,” said Dan Adams, planning director for Harbor District Inc.

Adams and his colleagues at Harbor District Inc., including executive director Lilith Fowler, who was instrumental in jumpstarting the Menomonee Valley as the first executive director of Menomonee Valley Partners, believe they have come up with a good starting point to continue work in the Harbor District.

The group is inviting the public to hear its plans and share their own ideas from 4 to 6:30 p.m. April 25 at Independence First, 540 S. First St. and from 4 to 6:30 p.m. April 27 at the UWM School of Freshwater Sciences, 600 E. Greenfield Ave.

“We’ve taken all of the input we’ve received, and all of the work we did with our consultants, and based on that feedback, drafted recommendations on how to develop for the future,” Adams said.

Once the water and land use plan is solidified, it will go before the Milwaukee Common Council to be used as a guideline for future development of the Harbor District.

The plan addresses land use and economic development, transportation, parks and open space and the environment.

“People want a little bit of everything down here,” Adams said.

The Harbor District is bordered by First Street, Bay Street and Pittsburgh Avenue. It was cut off from the city and neglected for decades, but now is getting a closer look, in part because it is surrounded by three of the most in-demand neighborhoods in Milwaukee: Walker’s Point, the Historic Third Ward and Bay View.

The Milwaukee inner harbor redevelopment project was one of two catalytic projects Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett identified in 2013 as part of his ReFresh Milwaukee 10-year sustainability plan. Barrett created Harbor District Inc. in 2015.

Revitalization already is taking place in the district. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee completed the $53 million School of Freshwater Sciences in fall 2014. Wauwatosa-based developer Wangard Partners also is working on the Freshwater Plaza, a $48 million mixed-use project on eight acres at the corner of South First Street and East Greenfield Avenue.

Other pieces of the Harbor District also have been tackled.

In January, Quorum Architects Inc. and Ayres Associates Inc. were chosen by Harbor District Inc. to design a new public plaza on Milwaukee’s inner harbor at the end of Greenfield Avenue.

Adams said that project is a first step. What will be unveiled at the public meetings in April will show other possibilities to activate the waterfront, he said.

Some of the other pieces will take more time. The city owns several large sites and many others are still privately held.

One example is among the district’s largest parcels, the 46-acre former Milwaukee Solvay Coke & Gas Co. site at 311 E. Greenfield Ave. For years, the city tried to demolish the building on the site and the former owner refused to cooperate.

On April 4, Wisconsin Gas LLC was the lone bidder in a bankruptcy sale of the property for $4 million. Wisconsin Gas, a predecessor company to WEC Energy Group Inc., is expected to close on the property in early May, said Cathy Schulze, a company spokesperson.

Wisconsin Gas is one of a handful of companies responsible for contaminating the site years ago and therefore, must help pay for its cleanup. Schulze did not have an estimate on how much cleanup would cost or specific plans for the site.

“Because we bear a portion of the remediation cost, we wanted to better be able to manage the costs,” Schulze said. “We are looking forward to working with the city and the Harbor District to revitalize this parcel.”

Adams said the Harbor District also is looking forward to getting this large piece of land restored.

“Our plan also encompasses Solvay Coke and we make recommendations for that area,” Adams said. “There might be changes when (Wisconsin Gas) figures out what to do and we incorporate their input. The first step is cleanup and reactivating that space to make it beneficial to the community again.” 

If you go:

What: Harbor District water and land use plan community input meetings

When: April 25 and April 27, 4 to 6:30 p.m.

Where: April 25, Independence First, 540 S. First St.; April 27, UWM School of Freshwater Sciences, 600 E. Greenfield Ave.

Purpose: Harbor District Inc. will share plans and is looking for feedback on new parks and a riverwalk to expand waterfront access in the Harbor District.

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