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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014

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Sydney HIH glistens in the sun.
Sydney HIH glistens in the sun.
Opportunity surounds.
Opportunity surounds.

Why weird works

My wife - who is on the Historic Third Ward executive committee, is a former business improvement district director and co-founder of Lela - and I were discussing the Sydney HIH building recently. And, she made a very Austin-type comment. Milwaukee needs more weird. So, of course, I told her to blog her thoughts. Here they are.

Why Weird Works
by Stephanie Sherman

Milwaukee is home to beautiful architecture, rich history and new cutting edge development and art. We also have our share of weird; the Bronze Fonz, that car ("God Mobile") that drives on Downtown covered in opinions, deceased icons like Dick Bacon and Pepperoni Cannoli Guy, and, one could even argue for Nyjer Morgan.

And, with all of its charm and pending death sentence, the Sydney HIH building is weird and we should embrace it.

Sydney HIH has become something people talk about, tell urban legends about and brag about being a part of. Why tear it down? I understand the City's desire to clear the way for something new. But how about embracing it and making it truly art?  It's time for more Milwaukee leaders to take risks.

It was the home of artists, musicians and so much more.  Now, could it, the building itself, become public art?   Think something better than "plop art" like the Beasties or temporary sculptures.  Let's make it a formal tribute to what it created. Fill it with sand if it is uninhabitable. Cover it in color. Let's let artist Reggie Baylor cover it once again with bold color!

I understand the desire to clear the way for a large, pinnacle development. And I understand that no developer is interested in purchasing and redeveloping the building given its uninhabitable condition. So, develop around it.

This is Milwaukee. Every day tourists stop in amazement at the beauty of the old architecture in our Downtown. We need every last bit of the past. It is our competitive edge. It is what makes us better than other cities.

I saw the owner of Zappos speak several years ago on what makes his company successful. Certainly great service, an excellent product were mentioned. But, he also mentioned the "weird factor."

Weird works for Milwaukee. Let's not lose out on the chance to preserve weird. It's time for more color and beauty to thrive as parts of our Downtown landscape.

Stephanie Sherman is co-founder of Lela boutique, an economic development professional and much more.  

Talkbacks

pfan | June 15, 2012 at 9:12 a.m. (report)

No, in all likelihood we won't get a new building with just as much history or appeal as the one that currently stands. What will likely rise is a cheaply constructed, mundane structure that will be lucky to last 40 years. Look no further than the ultra-cheap A-loft next door. This is typical of what bottom line developers are building all over the country.

Like it or not, the Sidney Hih is unique. It was built well and could easily be saved, it just takes money. It's a building that makes Milwaukee uniquely Milwaukee and not Anywhere, USA. It's also the potential corner stone for a vibrant future street. We rarely build storefronts at the scale that you see in the multiple buildings strung together. Those facades could easily be remade into inviting restaurants, bars, and cafes --- much like our most cherished pedestrian streets --- Third St, Brady St, Milwaukee St, etc. Which all happen to be historic, small scale, with a patina that only time can generate.

Lastly, there's no argument more fundamentally stupid than "if you don't like it, why don't you just move." Please, grow up. Thank goodness there are many people in this city making it what they want.

There's not development in the wings. There is absolutely no reason for another vacant surface lot. Learn from your past, Milwaukee...

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InTheView | June 14, 2012 at 8:32 p.m. (report)

The Sydney Hih is an eye sore and is falling apart. Plow it away. We'll build another building that will have just as much history in time. As it stands, we have a bunch of tiny vacant buildings that remind us of our frontier & industrial history. It's not worth keeping them all. If I want to show my kid what Milwaukee was like in the 1900s, I can just drive down to the 3rd Ward & Walker's Point.

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InTheView | June 14, 2012 at 8:26 p.m. (report)

If you want a weird city like Austin, why not just move to Austin?

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nmballa | June 14, 2012 at 6:49 p.m. (report)

Huge problem with this city is they tear things down before really thinking it through. Travel europe and cities that have gone through modernization has managed to integrate the existing structures. Here in the USA we simply plow over in the name of progress. Makes me sick. This building can't be replaced. What exactly is the point of tearing it down? Oh yeah, that right, it ruins the view of the new high rise next door. Pathetic Milwaukee.

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Midwest | June 14, 2012 at 10:37 a.m. (report)

Agreed, that quirk is a good thing. (It's "Nyjer" by the way).

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