Lake Interchange reconfiguration could boost Third Ward development

The plans to reconfigure the Lake Interchange, announced by state and local officials this week, will open up a three-acre site near the downtown Milwaukee lakefront for development and include road improvements and footbridges to improve vehicular and pedestrian access to the lakefront.

What may be less obvious is that the project could also boost development in the Historic Third Ward.

The project will include the extension of Lincoln Memorial Drive, from its current termination at ramps to and from the Hoan Bridge, south to Chicago Street in the Third Ward. The road then will continue on the current path of Harbor Drive south to Polk Street.

The extension of Lincoln Memorial Drive will dramatically improve access from the Third Ward to the lakefront said Michael Gardner, president of the Historic Third Ward Association.

“I think this is going to be fabulous for the Third Ward,” he said. “It will be a major street that will move a lot of traffic.”

The extension of Lincoln Memorial Drive will reduce traffic coming to and from Maier Festival Park for Summerfest and other festivals, Gardner said.

“It’s going to help Summerfest immensely with traffic flow,” he said.

The Lincoln Memorial Drive extension could also help attract development to the eastern half of the Third Ward. Most of the development in the neighborhood has occurred in its western half. The eastern half of the Third Ward has a large amount of vacant land. The city estimates there are about 22 acres of vacant land in the Third Ward where the extension of Lincoln Memorial Drive could help attract development, said Department of City Development Commissioner Richard “Rocky” Marcoux.

“All of the Lincoln Memorial Drive traffic could use it to get to the Third Ward,” he said. “That would open up that whole area of the Third Ward for development.”

The largest potential development site is the 12 acres of surface parking lot and vacant land at the Italian Community Center property. Last year, the ICC selected Coachyards Development LLC, a division of Marcus Investments LLC (an investment arm of the Marcus family), to do a feasibility study for the project.

The ICC has been waiting for the Lake Interchange plans to be finalized before moving ahead with development plans for its site.

“Now they know what their transportation linkages are going to be,” Marcoux said.

Gardner said the Lincoln Memorial Drive extension will help attract development to the ICC site and the rest of the eastern portion of the Third Ward.

“It will add to the desirability of that area, absolutely,” he said.

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