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In 25 years, my vision is for downtown Milwaukee to become a premier destination for living, working and playing. I think it’s possible by harnessing the natural beauty and power of the Milwaukee River and its tributaries and Lake Michigan. Those amazing bodies of water really define us, so I’d like to see a strategic vision and plan for how they can be turned into true features that distinguish us from all other U.S. cities and draw residents, visitors, tourists, corporate headquarters and world leaders to Milwaukee.
I envision a city that’s centered around the river and lake. The river and lake become a vibrant commuter and tourism transportation hub that connects the city from the north side to the south side and east to American Family Field. It’s a water system that’s easily available for everyone to access and use. A series of docks allow water taxies to carry people from their house, condo or apartment to their employer. After work, the taxi takes you to dinner and then back home. We already have an amazing concentration of attractions that are on or near the Milwaukee River and Lake Michigan – Fiserv Forum, Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, Harley Davidson Museum, American Family Field, the Hank Aaron Trail, Bradford Beach, Lakeshore State Park, the Hoan Bridge, South Shore Beach and Grant Park Beach. By creating a “water trail” and enhancing it with more green space, playgrounds, restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues, we can make the river and Lake Michigan destinations for all.
A money, energy and time investment in this bustling waterway system would pay off economically and socially. Milwaukee would be elevated in its stature and profile around the country and world. A respect and appreciation for our forward-thinking vision would grab the attention of like-minded individuals, business leaders and companies. We’d create jobs, secure corporate headquarters and experience an influx of residents and visitors – all drawn to our water-centric way of life.
When you’re on the Milwaukee River or Lake Michigan, you literally see the city from a different perspective. You see the beauty of our skyline, you see nature and you see people who already are living and playing alongside the water. Having that experience instills a sense of pride in what our city is and what it has to offer.
I know there are a number of groups and organizations that are working on individual pieces related to the water. It’s exciting to hear about the Harbor District and the improvements that organization is making. Decades ago Mayor John Norquist started the Milwaukee RiverWalk and his vision has continued as the RiverWalk continues to grow to this day. It’s an example of what can be accomplished through public-private partnerships. While elements have been done or are currently being worked on, I think a larger entity and longer vision is necessary to truly tap into the power and potential of our waterways.This column is part of “25 big ideas for Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin’s future,” a feature included in the BizTimes Milwaukee 25th anniversary issue. To read other contributions, visit biztimes.com/bigideas