Include historic preservation in downtown revitalization


Last updated on February 27th, 2023 at 05:15 pm

The 127-year-old Vermont building was demolished recently.
The 127-year-old Vermont building was demolished recently.

It is so great to see the real estate development boom and revitalization taking place in downtown Milwaukee. We are in the middle of one of the most exciting periods ever for downtown Milwaukee.

But the new buildings are not the only thing that makes downtown Milwaukee great. The city has many historic buildings that visitors and residents enjoy.

What would downtown Milwaukee be without its historic City Hall, the incredible Mitchell Building and others? It would be a lot less interesting. The historic buildings in the Third Ward are what make that neighborhood so special.

That’s why it is so important to make sure that the city’s historic buildings are preserved, if at all possible, while at the same time embracing the boom in new development.

But I’m starting to worry that historic preservation is getting less attention downtown. There have been a few alarming examples of this recently.

Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. recently began demolition work to make way for a $100 million, 34-story luxury apartment tower with several levels of parking, plus some retail space. It will be a great project. However, the demolition work included destruction of The Vermont, a four-story apartment building constructed in 1889.

The Vermont was a cool old building, the kind that adds historic character to the city. It was a shame to lose it. But what is disturbing is that seemingly nobody raised any concerns about it, at least not publicly.

Wangard Partners plans to tear down most of the former Laacke & Joys complex, including a four-story building built in 1874, to build a new office building. Why not transform the existing building into office space, like in the Third Ward?

Madison-based Palisade Property Management LLC plans to build a 26-story, $55 million, 202-unit apartment tower on the site of the 118-year-old Goll Mansion at 1550 N. Prospect Ave. on the East Side. Under the proposal, the mansion would have to be moved forward on the site so the tower could be built. Can that be done without damaging the mansion, which was built in 1898?

It seems surprising there are not more concerns being raised about these plans. The Milwaukee Preservation Alliance is perhaps the most active group in the community that advocates for historic preservation, but it has made little to no waves lately.

Milwaukee Preservation Alliance president Dawn McCarthy said the nonprofit, all-volunteer organization has limited resources and tries to pick battles it has a realistic chance of winning.

“We don’t have the resources to be as proactive as we would like to be,” she said.

Historic buildings have great value and we need to fight for them. They are one-of-a-kind and therefore provide unique character that helps attract visitors and makes the city more interesting and appealing.

Let’s embrace all of this new development, but balance that by working to also preserve the city’s history whenever possible.

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

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.

No posts to display