Radio station’s building will have unique rooftop

Last updated on March 12th, 2021 at 11:42 am

On the rooftop of the building at 220 E. Pittsburgh Ave. in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood sits 2,422 square feet of green space.

The building, the soon-to-be home of 88Nine RadioMilwaukee, is the latest building in the city to feature a “green roof,” where plants are installed atop the building, creating not only an aesthetically pleasing atmosphere, but an environmentally friendly and sustainability-conscious one, as well.

And though the nonprofit Milwaukee radio station’s new headquarters is far from the only building in the city to install a green roof – the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD)’s Regional Green Roof Initiative has been a part of more than 50 green roof projects over the last decade – it’s the only one that shares a rooftop with a 100-person capacity performance space built for live events.

Until now, the community-driven, left of the dial radio station (88.9 FM) has been broadcasting from within Milwaukee Public Schools’ central office facility at 5225 W. Vliet St., with the station’s administrative staff housed in a small rented commercial building across that street.

Executive director Mary Louise Mussoline said the radio station wanted a space big enough to unite the program staff, expand its volunteer and internship programs, and provide space for more live performances, something the two-story, 12,500-square-foot building will certainly have room for when the radio station opens for business there in early September.

The station began looking for a building in January, 2011, said Mussoline, and as many as 40 buildings were considered. They chose to purchase the Pittsburgh Avenue building instead of finding a space to rent.

“We’re only six years old,” said Mussoline. “We wanted to have a long term asset for the organization. We felt that this would be a good investment for us, and something that we would always have, so that’s why we decided to purchase. We wanted to be able to build it to suit our needs and owning the building, you can do that.”

Much the way the station funds its operations and programming, the money to purchase the building and the renovations to make it their own are being raised through donors.

“We’re raising $2.8 million, and that covers the cost of purchasing the building, which is $1,175,000, and then the renovations make up the rest,” said Mussoline. “We’ve raised $1.6 million to date, and we have $1.2 million to go. We started (raising the money) last November with a large donor phase and then we started about a month ago with the community. We wanted to give people the chance to participate before we’re moved in. And we’ll continue to raise money once we’re in.”

The green roof portion will cover 40 percent of the rooftop, and will cost roughly $45,000. RadioMilwaukee received just over $12,000 in a grant from MMSD to complete the green roof portion of the project, through the Regional Green Roof Initiative, which reimburses $5 per square foot.

Christopher Schultz, senior project manager for water quality at MMSD, said green roofs are becoming more and more common in the city of Milwaukee. He said the MMSD has been funding green roofs since 2003. Many of the early projects were public buildings – such as Milwaukee Public Library and a variety of city-owned buildings – but when the Regional Green Roof Initiative program ramped up in 2010, more and more private companies, such as Rockwell Automation, Mandel Group Inc. and Aurora Health Care, have installed green roofs. The vast majority of MMSD projects currently in the works are with private companies.

“Right now, there’s more than 7.5 acres of green roofs that are finished that we’ve participated in, including Rockwell Automation,” he said. “There will be – if everything comes to fruition – about 58 different green roofs with close to 10 acres (in the city).”

The chief architect and designer on the RadioMilwaukee project is Lyssa Olker, senior associate at HGA, whose experience in green roofs includes work on UWM dormitory Cambridge Commons. She said the increase in green roofs is in part because of the grant opportunities, but also because of the increased recognition of water problems.

“The biggest benefit from green roofs is the storm water retention,” said Olker. “When we have these massive rains, the system gets overwhelmed and we have to dump everything into the river. What the green roof does is it holds all that water (that hits the roof). Instead of going down into the system, it holds it and processes it, and eventually it goes back into the atmosphere instead of going to the ground.”

Green roofs also act as an insulator, Olker added, keeping the building warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

Another benefit of green roofs is that they provide an added layer of protection, allowing the roof to last two to three times longer than a standard roof, and that air conditioning and energy usage should go down with the benefits of the green roof’s insulation, Schultz said.

RadioMilwaukee’s green roof incorporates a combination of deciduous and evergreen plants – mostly sedums – so that it lives in the winter, said Olker. The plants were grown in a greenhouse by LiveRoof LLC, a subsidiary of Michigan-based Hortech, Inc., brought to Milwaukee and installed by lifting them onto the roof by crane (see photo), which will allow the space to be lush and green as soon as it opens, as opposed to having to wait for the plants to grow.

Plans for the rooftop performance space are still developing as of yet, but Mussoline sees plenty of opportunity in the space.

“One of the things that’s a challenge – and it’s a good challenge – is because the space is so fabulous is that we’ll need time to grow into it,” she said. “We’ll use it as much as we can. It’s such a beautiful spot, we felt like we had to take advantage of it.”

Mussoline mentioned DJ events, community gatherings, member parties, meet the artist events and acoustic concerts as options for the rooftop performance space. The first event where visitors are welcomed will be on Sept. 28, the building’s official community opening.

The rooftop is one of many unique aspects of the building. Space on the first floor will be rented to Stone Creek Coffee for a new café, which will have garage doors that open up to a community room and another 100-person capacity performance space, that, when open, will create “one huge venue,” said Olker.

Creating a sustainable building was a focus from the beginning, said Olker. Many salvaged materials from the building are being used, and wood from a torn-down barn in Sheboygan County was contributed to the renovation project.

For the home stretch of the building’s renovations, RadioMilwaukee has launched the Sound Foundation Campaign, for which an anonymous donor has offered to triple donations for those pledging to the station for the first time. Since 88Nine RadioMilwaukee is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, donations are tax-deductible.

More on this project, including photos and a variety of multimedia stories from the station’s DJs chronicling the renovation can be found at

Dan Shafer covers innovation and technology for BizTimes Milwaukee. Send news to him at or follow him on Twitter @danshaferMKE.

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