Murals, lighting aim to ‘brighten’ downtown Milwaukee corridor underneath I-794

Public-private partnership furthers recent development along North Broadway

Photo courtesy of Milwaukee Downtown, BID #21

Last updated on February 15th, 2021 at 01:41 pm

The corridor between Milwaukee’s central business district and Historic Third Ward has gotten quite the facelift, thanks to a public-private initiative to connect the neighborhoods north and south of the I-794 freeway. 

The recently completed ‘Brighten the Passage’ project added four murals, 75 aesthetic light fixtures and streetscape upgrades along North Broadway and North Water Street, from East Clybourn Street and East St. Paul Avenue.

That area underneath a busy overpass had been long overlooked and underutilized, said project officials, but recent improvements aim to encourage pedestrian activity and draw foot traffic to nearby shops and restaurants. 

“We want residents, workers and visitors alike to not only feel like they are in a unique and vibrant place, but we also want to create new and interesting attractions that draw more patrons to the area for our businesses,” said Matt Dorner, economic development director of Milwaukee Downtown, BID #21, which spearheaded the project with Historic Third Ward Business Improvement District #2. 

Beginning Thursday night, the corridor will be illuminated in red and pink hues in celebration of Valentine’s Day, and a heart-shaped ice frame, sculpted by Art Below Zero, will be installed outside the Milwaukee Public Market for photo ops. The attraction is “just one example” of the activities and programs on tap for the area, according to a news release.

‘Brighten the Passage’ furthers the $200 million investment in recent development projects along North Broadway, including the BMO Tower, Huron Building, The Hop streetcar system, and the Milwaukee Public Market, which has continually set records for sales and foot traffic since opening in 2005. 

The project was born out of the city of Milwaukee’s 2010 Downtown Comprehensive Plan, and was funded by a public-private partnership including the state Department of Transportation, the city of Milwaukee, Historic Third Ward Association, Milwaukee Public Market, BID #2, Milwaukee Downtown, BID #21 and the private sector, according to its website.

“The land underneath the freeway offers a unique opportunity to reimagine ways to activate space and enhance connectivity in our urban landscape,” said Paul Schwartz, executive director of the Milwaukee Public Market and Business Improvement District #2. “We’ve worked hard to develop the public market into a catalyst of connectivity between downtown and the Third Ward.” 

He said ‘Brighten the Passage’ is another step in that direction.

While the project has been in the works for nearly a decade, work didn’t commence until last fall when local artists Tia Richardson, The Couto Brothers, Josephine Rice and Dave Watkins installed murals on the four I-794 freeway support piers that frame North Broadway.

In January, programmable aesthetic lighting was installed by Brookfield-based Lemberg Electric Company, completing phase two of the project. The lighting technology was designed by Madison-based Ring & DuChateau, programmed by Milwaukee-based MainStage Theatrical Supply Inc.

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Maredithe Meyer
Maredithe Meyer covers restaurants, retail, tourism, and sports and entertainment. She joined BizTimes in 2015, previously as an intern reporter. She earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University in 2017. When she's not on the job, Maredithe coaches field hockey and loves exploring her favorite city on earth, Milwaukee.

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