Private money needed in new $66 million plan to save Mitchell Park Domes

Would include partnership with Medical College of Wisconsin

A rendering of the reimagined Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory campus.

Last updated on August 16th, 2019 at 10:39 am

A new business plan calls for a $66 million capital investment over the next 10 years to restore the Mitchell Park Domes, add new amenities and transform the campus into an urban botanical park.

The Domes Task Force this week endorsed the plan from Montana-based consulting firm ArtsMarket, Inc., which includes restoring the aging Domes, expanding programming, and adding several amenities to Mitchell Park. The proposal will now be reviewed by a Milwaukee County Board committee.

Under the business plan, the Domes would be rehabilitated and a host of new features would be added to the park, including: a welcome center, retail, education and research hub; a farm-to-table restaurant; a new events pavilion; outdoor and indoor food service; an improved amphitheater; clean and fresh pond circulation and a reflecting pool at Mitchell Park; and outdoor and indoor gardens.

Funding for the plan would come from public and private sources, including $13.5 million raised through a private sector campaign; another $13.5 million from Milwaukee County; $26 million from historic tax credits; and $12 million from opportunity zone funds.

The report called the proposed financing strategy “challenging,” but said it reflects the type of private-public investment-based model that other municipalities have successfully used in restoring their parks and assets.

“The planning study of traditional prospective donors suggests that some will join in, but that there is skepticism of the county’s will and capacity to complete this project and adopt this plan,” the report said.

Following the initial 10-year capital investment, the plan estimates a more than $5 million annual budget.

In addition to the new features, the proposal envisions the Domes and Mitchell Park becoming a center for workforce training in horticulture, urban agriculture and culinary arts, with programs serving teens and professionals.

When fully implemented in 2027, the park would be an “economic hub” for the Clarke Square neighborhood, supporting 300 jobs, the report said.

The plan proposes partnering with the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Office for Community Engagement on a new Center for Urban Ag and Health that would house research and gardens on Mitchell park’s campus.

The report notes that the firm is in discussions with the Medical College about “bringing their large federal and other research grants to the table” to help fund the project.

The business plan also calls for the creation of a new nonprofit entity, the Mitchell Park and Domes Conservancy, that would partner with Milwaukee County to operate the park.

The report follows a study released last year by ConsultEcon and HGA that presented several options for the future of the Domes, ranging from doing nothing to tearing the Domes down to re-envisioning the Domes as a destination education, conservation and recreation attraction.

In March, another firm put forward a plan to integrate the Domes experience into a new 284,000-square-foot Milwaukee Public Museum building on the site of the current Domes.

An April BizTimes cover story examined the funding challenges faced by the city’s key cultural and quality of life assets including the Domes, Milwaukee Public Museum and Milwaukee County Zoo.

ArtsMarket Inc. was tasked by the Milwaukee County Parks and the Domes Task Force with examining potential partnerships, governance changes, funding and revenue options, and programming and conceptual space planning and cost estimating, and offering a recommended business plan for the Domes.

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