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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014

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In Living Commentary

Milwaukee's Downtown lakefront gets a face lift. (PHOTO: Milwaukee Department of City Development )

A new face for Milwaukee on the lake ... but will it mean more jobs?


The city's Downtown lakefront face is about to change dramatically.

The main intent behind the $34 million expansion project for Lincoln Memorial Drive announced Monday is to create more land for development and allow easier access in and out of one of the city's most popular areas for both residents and visitors.

The announcement was also intended to set the stage for a dramatic re-envisioning of Milwaukee's Downtown lakefront area for decades to come.

No less a trio than Gov. Scott Walker, Mayor Tom Barrett and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele appeared at a press conference to announce the expansion of Lincoln Memorial south into the Third Ward along with other plans to move existing freeway ramps in order to create space for future development.

All three elected officials described the project as a way to create jobs and attract investment to the area, although an exact number of jobs to be created by the ambitious plan was little more than a vague projection.

At one point, Barrett talked about his hopes for "hundreds of jobs" out of the construction phase of the plan along with a suggestion of more permanent jobs later on once other projects were realized.

That's probably not going to be enough to satisfy the various groups in town who have been clamoring for a big public jobs project like this one to replace the big federal construction railroad project Walker declined a few years ago. City and state funds earmarked for transportation will reportedly be used to pay for most of the construction costs. The city is also counting on developing much of the land freed up by the Lincoln Memorial expansion for new business that generate property taxes and add value.

Walker seemed in a Milwaukee-friendly mode this time around, citing the city's role as a major attraction for investors. He even called Milwaukee "one of our greatest assets," which seemed in contrast to recent his recent remarks about his desire to abolish city residency rules because some people didn't think the city was all that great.

But clearly this was a time for short memories between politicians, with Walker stressing the bi-partisan nature of the Downtown lakefront expansion project. "This isn't a Republican or Democratic issue..." he said at one point.

According to Barrett spokesman Jeff Fleming, the Downtown lakefront expansion will free up valuable space while providing better access to the most enjoyable parts of the city.

Fleming noted that while many people go to the lakefront: "They're not thinking about Downtown. And when they go Downtown, they're not thinking about the lakefront. Or, they're not thinking about the Third Ward. This connects all of that."

Along with creating more pedestrian and bike lanes, Fleming said the Lincoln Memorial Drive expansion would make moving around that part of town during the summer festival season much more agreeable to visitors.

It's a bold plan that wasn't just cooked up overnight. Fleming said some of the proposals were already part of the mayor's recent budget and that county and state officials have been talking about this for years.

The presence of a mover-and-shaker like philanthropist Michael Cudahy, and other leaders in Milwaukee's civic and business community, at the press conference was a sign this facelift has been planned for quite some time.

It looks like everyone from the governor to the county executive to the mayor agreed on the need to work together on this one in order to build a future for Milwaukee.

Let's hope in the end the facelift is a good one for the city and that there will be more than enough jobs for all the politicians involved to take credit.

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