In need of a major facility upgrade, Milwaukee Public Museum officials are seriously considering moving the museum to a new downtown location. No specific plans have been established and it will likely take about 10 years to pull it off.
This will be an utterly fascinating and important civic project for Milwaukee. Just imagine how difficult and expensive it will be to move the museum’s collections to a new facility.
Many of us who grew up in the Milwaukee area are nostalgic about the museum and have cherished childhood memories of our visits there. So there will be tremendous scrutiny of what happens to it. The museum has fantastic dioramas. What happens to them if the museum relocates? Can those be re-created in a new location?
On the other hand, much of the museum, which opened in its current location in 1963, feels dated and is in need of modernization to appeal to today’s visitors. A new building could do the trick.
The museum’s current location at 800 W. Wells St., between the Milwaukee County Courthouse and the downtown State Office Building, also lacks appeal for visitors. There’s nowhere to eat and not much to do nearby. A more interesting location could help make the museum more attractive.
So where should the new museum be located? Some will no doubt lobby for the lakefront, where a museum campus could be created with the Milwaukee Art Museum, Discovery World, the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum and the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center.
Another possibility is West Wisconsin Avenue. Perhaps it could be part of a major development at the still-vacant but crucial site at North Fourth Street.
But the best option would be next to the new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, on the current site of the BMO Harris Bradley Center. That’s only about three blocks northeast of the current museum location, but it would be a much more active and interesting area for visitors. The Bucks ownership wants to create a vibrant, mixed-use district around the arena and they want to attract visitors year-round, even on days when the arena is not in use. The museum, which attracts more than 500,000 visitors annually, could help.
The cost of the project will be enormous, and it will be vital to have a world-class design. That will only add to the cost but would be a huge benefit to the museum. Just look at what Santiago Calatrava’s design did for the Milwaukee Art Museum.
It will take a massive private fundraising effort to pay for this project. That will be a significant challenge in a community with other competing civic projects, including the Lakefront Gateway Plaza and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s Warner Grand Theatre renovation.
Maybe the Bucks’ billionaire owners could help out, especially if they would like to include the Milwaukee Public Museum as part of the arena district.
It could be a match made in heaven.