Report: Demo the Domes, replace with new shared building with MPM

New building cost estimated at $267 million

The Mitchell Park Domes

A national design firm is recommending that Milwaukee County demolish the Mitchell Park Domes, saying the cost of renovation outweighs the benefits.

The Mitchell Park Domes

In its new study, Gallagher Museum Services recommends the county integrate the Domes experience into a new 284,000-square-foot Milwaukee Public Museum building on the site of the current Domes.

“Based on our review of the information we believe there could be a great guest experience which integrates the content and stories from Milwaukee Public Museum with the content and experience of the current Domes and Conservatory,” the report said. “Specifically, the natural history portion of the MPM storyline fits very nicely with the Domes experiences.”

The MPM-Domes Joint Task Force, created in fall 2018 to study the possibility of building the new MPM at Mitchell Park, commissioned the GMS study. The county Parks, Energy and Environment Committee will discuss the report’s findings this afternoon.

It’s the latest development in the years-long consideration of possible options for the aging Domes, which were built between 1959 and 1967.

Meanwhile, MPM leaders plan to move from the current county-owned building at 800 W. Wells St. in downtown Milwaukee to a new $100 million or more building within the next decade. Mitchell Park is one of several options MPM leaders are considering. Another is a possible downtown museum campus that would include a MPM building and Betty Brinn Children’s Museum at the site of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts parking structure northwest of State and Water streets.

The new GMS report proposes linking a new MPM building with the existing greenhouses at Mitchell Park, for a total of 284,000 square feet. The combined museum would include 70,000 square feet of gallery space, along with 40,000 square feet of storage space for the MPM collection.

It would be about 40 percent more space efficient than the combined current buildings, the report said.

Joining the two institutions would cost a projected $267 million, according to the report. With the addition of a $30 million endowment, the total capital campaign would be about $297 million.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, which designated the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory a “National Treasure” in 2017, dismissed the report’s findings.

“Demolition of the Mitchell Park Domes, an iconic symbol of Milwaukee and a National Treasure, would result in an irreparable loss for the community,” said Barb Paul, senior vice president of field services at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “The public has overwhelmingly voiced their support for protecting these local landmarks from disinvestment, destruction, and demolition.”

A separate task force is currently preparing reports on two options to preserve the Domes. The Parks, Energy and Environment Committee committee today will consider a report report from that task force, which was prepared by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, that suggests a Domes rehabilitation project could be eligible for federal historic tax credits.

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