When I moved to Milwaukee in 1983, that big vacant lot on Wisconsin Avenue between 4th and 5th Streets – now surface parking, though also recently used for events like the NEWaukee Night Market – was an "activated" space, even if it wasn't quite performing up to its potential.
The entire block was constructed with vintage building stock; structures that I bet we wish we still had, especially in light of the fact that since they all came down, the site's been basically dead.
Dead, especially when it's a potential connector between The Shops of Grand Avenue, Boston Store, the Hilton City Center and the Wisconsin Center convention halls. That empty lot is a drag on Milwaukee's downtown.
Today, the city began accepting requests for proposals for developments on the site:
The Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee is excited to present this Request for Proposals for an unprecedented transit-oriented development opportunity in the City of Milwaukee and one of the most unique transit-oriented development opportunities in the Midwest. The approximately 2-acre parcel at 4th/Wisconsin will be located on both the proposed Milwaukee Streetcar route and Bus Rapid Transit line. This high visibility and high traffic site is situated directly across the street from Wisconsin's main convention center, blocks from the Marquette University campus and centrally-located among significant redevelopment efforts in thriving downtown Milwaukee.
Downtown Milwaukee is undergoing an extraordinary renaissance with nearly $3 billion in projects completed since 2005, $1 billion under construction and another $1.3 billion in advanced planning stages. In the greater downtown area, over 9,500 housing units have been added since 2004 and over 1,300 hotel rooms have been added since 2008. As a result of this extraordinary investment and substantial growth, downtown Milwaukee now has 26,000 residents, 83,000 daily workers and over 6 million annual visitors.
Development concepts should capitalize on this unique site and help continue the momentum in downtown Milwaukee.
This is an exciting chance to get it right and create a space that not only generates tax revenues and engages Milwaukee residents, but that also lures visitors to the city and entertains conventioneers from the Wisconsin Center across the street.
Above is a Department of City Development potential development scenario for the site. I love the plaza idea, as long as it's a welcoming one and not a repeat of some of the failed public spaces we've created here. (I'm undecided on the idea of transit bisecting a pedestrian zone.)
More hotel rooms would be a plus and surely welcome on that site so close to the Wisconsin Center, but so would entertainment of some kind. Dining in that part of Downtown has room for growth, as do other entertainment experiences of the kind that other cities use to draw visitors (a Harley "experience"?).
That glassy pavilion in the image, right on the corner of 5th and Wisconsin, looks like the perfect place for a palm garden or a coffee house-by-day, restaurant-by-night venue. Maybe a brewpub and tasting room.
The possibilities are manifold. I will just say, and I'll bet you agree, that Milwaukee needs to get this one right. And, I will ask you what you'd like to see in this long-underutilized space. Post a talkback below or comment on Facebook.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.