Harley-Davidson unveils plans to build park at headquarters campus

Rendering of the park planned at Harley-Davidson's headquarters campus in Milwaukee. Credit: Heatherwick Studio.

Last updated on January 13th, 2023 at 01:42 pm

Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson today unveiled plans to build a public park at its corporate headquarters campus on the city’s west side.

The park, designed by London-based Heatherwick Studio, would replace a large area of surface parking lots on the southeast part of the campus at 3700 W. Juneau Ave.

The future of Harley’s headquarters has been in doubt since Harley chief executive officer Jochen Zeitz said last year that the campus has been underutilized since the COVID-19 pandemic as the company has embraced hybrid work and given its employees the freedom to work from home. He told Bloomberg that the company planned to repurpose its headquarters. Without providing details he later said the company remained committed to Milwaukee.

With today’s announcement the company begins to show what it has in mind for the campus. The plans shown today don’t indicate what will be done with the buildings there. But with a dramatic decrease in employees coming into the office, Harley says it wants to replace empty parking spaces at its headquarters campus with a park that will benefit its employees, the community and attract people to the neighborhood.

“Milwaukee is the place we have proudly called home for 120 years. We want Harley-Davidson’s presence in Milwaukee to be more relevant than ever before, for our community, employees and our customers,” said Zeitz, in a news release today. “It’s important to us to protect and enhance this part of our heritage in a way that is aligned to our strategy, ensuring that it will be relevant to generations to come. Kicking the project off in our 120th year underscores both the importance of the project and the commitment that we are making to Milwaukee.”

The initial development will be overseen and funded by The Harley-Davidson Foundation, with longer-term sponsorship and donor opportunities, to further enhance the project, being made available in the near future, the company said.

“We are very proud by the work of the Harley-Davidson Foundation in spearheading this project, which builds on the $30 million donated by the Motor Company to the foundation since 2020,” Zeitz said.

Over the past 18 months, the foundation brought together a broad set of stakeholders – including members of the community – to discuss a shared, long-term vision for the Near West Side and set priorities to accelerate progress for its neighborhood. Among the key community needs identified was greenspace, the company said. Input from multiple stakeholders served as the basis for Heatherwick Studio’s community park design.

At the heart of the plans for the park at the Harley headquarters campus is “The Hub,” a sunken multi-use events space, about 272 feet wide with tiered seating, set among plants and trees. The design promotes the idea of togetherness for the community, riders and employees alike, the company said. Its circular layout is defined by a combination of motorcycle driveways and turning circles, parking bays, sidewalks, plants and seats, and 360-degree viewpoints. The Hub will be built with 10 types of locally sourced brick, natural wany-edge timber, and weathered steel, the company said.

In one direction, the Hub will provide views of the brick buildings of the original home of Harley-Davidson. In the other, visitors will see a park sown with 120 native plant species, including 20 species of trees and 100 species of perennials, some of which are sacred to the Forest County Potawatomi. There are also plans for a market street, contemplative garden, and nature playground, the company said.

“Our goal is to turn this historic factory land into a new public park for the people of Milwaukee. We want to make an exciting community space where people can come together with friends and family and experience the wildness of nature alongside spaces for food, performance and play. The ambition is to highlight and celebrate renewed life in the Near West Side of this very special city,” said Thomas Heatherwick, founder and director of Heatherwick Studio.

Throughout the project, Heatherwick will act as design guardian, collaborating with local firms, HGA and Greenfire Management Services.

Harley-Davidson has gifted the land identified for the project directly to the foundation.

“This gift to the foundation is the most recent demonstration of the company’s commitment to its enduring, active community presence and inclusive stakeholder management approach to business that strives to positively impact people, planet and profit”, said Julie Anding, vice president, inclusive stakeholder management for Harley-Davidson, and president of the Harley-Davidson Foundation. “The Harley-Davidson Foundation is doubling down on our focus and investments to support the neighborhood to make it a place all can be proud to live, work and visit. It is our hope that this park will become the heart of the community and catalyst for further revitalization efforts.”

The community park development is set to break ground in spring of 2023 with the park available for use by summer 2024.

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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