Welcome To Milwaukee. First stop: Vend-O-Land

    One of the first things new visitors to Milwaukee will see upon arrival at the city’s sparkling new $15.8 million Amtrak Depot/Intermodal Facility on St. Paul Avenue are rows of vending machines offering everything from Twinkies and Snickers bars to Sun Chips and Mountain Dew.

    Instead of attempting to attract a local restaurateur by revamping lease terms for the facility’s 3,200 square foot restaurant space, the state Department of Transportation and Wilton Partners, the California-based operator of the state-owned facility, want to welcome you to Vend-O-Land.

    To me and others who have consistently worked hard to pull the facility’s design, amenities and future prospects up to a higher level, the fact that WisDOT and Wilton Partners have decided to lease the 3,200 square foot restaurant space to a vending machine company which intends to install a convenience store and a vending machine emporium there is insulting. Moreover, I think it’s insulting to the citizens of Milwaukee who deserve a facility that is not only attractive and vibrant but also full of amenities that today’s travelers (and consumers) expect (remember that most similar facilities in large cities have sit down restaurants, including the famous Oyster Bar in New York City’s Grand Central Station and the multiple restaurants at Washington D.C.’s Union Station).

    Several years ago, the city and the federal government stepped up to the plate to provide additional funds to upgrade WisDOT’s bare-boned remodeling plans for the state-owned Amtrak Depot (those plans actually included a drive-thru fast food restaurant!). The work, effort and resources called for by others and myself resulted in the magnificent facility that all Milwaukee residents can be proud of today. That’s why it’s unconscionable to me that just six months after the celebration and speeches at the VIP ribbon cutting ceremony we find there will be no counter service, no cocktail bar, no sit down food service, and no breakfast, lunch or dinner served at this magnificent facility any time soon.
    It is truly a disgrace that Milwaukee has been saddled with this WisDOT and Wilton Partners’ strategy to once again do the job on the cheap.

    Also, it is indeed ironic that WisDOT has no problem spending billions of dollars expanding state assets like Milwaukee area freeways, but when it comes to the Amtrak Depot/Intermodal Facility – also a state-owned asset – vending machines will suffice. I believe the citizens of Milwaukee did not make this investment in order to see this iconic facility degraded after only six months of operation.
    Milwaukeeans should demand that WisDOT immediately instruct Wilton Partners to rework the lease terms for the restaurant area in order to attract a quality local restaurateur. Failing that, WisDOT should terminate its relationship with Wilton Partners at once. I believe the citizens of Milwaukee, as financial partners in this venture, should accept nothing less.

    If we settle for something less, new arrivals and Milwaukee travelers will have to make do with plastic wrapped sandwiches, soda pop and potato chips.


    Robert Bauman is a Milwaukee alderman.

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