By Brian O'Shea   Published Jul 04, 2003 at 5:23 AM

{image1}Thousands of men and women were forced into hardships so that this country could enjoy a privilege that's taken for granted on a daily basis, freedom. Many times in American history, citizens were called upon when that privilege was in jeopardy.

To honor the deeds of these forefathers, Milwaukee is developing America's Freedom Center, a 100,000-sq. ft. complex designed to educate younger generations in the fundamentals that make America what it is. AFT will be located on north side of the existing Milwaukee County War Memorial and is expected to open in November 2006.

"America's Freedom Center will tell the story of the American Veterans, family members, and home front supporters who fought and worked for our freedom during the 20th and 21st centuries," said the president and CEO of the American Freedom Center, Robert A. Cocroft. "Every American should understand how we got to this point in history, and America's Freedom Center will allow them to experience our history in a new and compelling way."

A Brigadier General, Cocroft was also a member of the original Wisconsin Veterans War Memorial Board of Trustees. He was also Deputy Secretary of the State of Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs. Cocroft has spent much of his career working on behalf of veteran's issues.

"In 1998, a group of individuals interested in supporting the Milwaukee County War Memorial, put together a Board of Trustees to further the mission of the War Memorial Center, 'To honor the dead by serving the living,'" said Lillian Boese, AFC Director of Planning, Marketing and Development.

"This architectural landmark on the lakefront (the War Memorial Center), designed by Eero Saarinen, was built in 1957 and had fallen in disrepair over the years. The board raised $3 million and completed the interior renovation bringing the facility back to its original splendor. The board decided that a strategic plan was necessary for the War memorial to plan it's future. Through the discussions of the strategic plan, led by Brig. Gen. Robert A. Cocroft, it was determined that the creation of an educational center (the AFC), could better fulfill the mission of the War Memorial."

The new facility will house exhibits that educate the public about World War I, World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, Desert Storm and other events. Each exhibit is designed to be a multi-media, interactive experience. This allows visitors to see, hear, touch and experience these events in new ways.

Aside from the hands-on experience, AFC will also have a distance-learning center. This means that programs and events can be sent to schools all over Wisconsin, the nation,and internationally via the Internet.

The cost of this venture is not small. The roughly $77 million price tag includes upgrades in parking, construction of the actual building, exhibits, furnishings, communications equipment and other expenses.

"The fundraising plan for the AFC is unique among organizations in the Greater Milwaukee area," said Boese. "Of the total fundraising goal, it was determined that $10-15 million could be raised locally. The balance will be raised nationally from federal government sources, national corporations and foundations, and through a mass public campaign. Since the project is one of a kind (there is nothing like it in the world), it was felt that it would have national appeal."

Adding a structure along the lakefront can be a nerve-racking task for any architect. There is also the threat of being overshadowed by nearby innovative designs, such as the Milwaukee Art Museum and the War Memorial Center.

"The architectural team that designed the facility footprint of the AFC is Eppstein Uhen Architects, led by Robert Cooper, Jonathan Parker and Rich Tennessen," said Boese. "They worked with an international exhibit design team, Coenen and Associates, to create a lakefront-friendly project. The exterior actually returns green to the lakefront as it replaces the concrete parking lot with a building that is bermed landscaping and glass."

For more information about the AFC visit