Believe me, I know that I risk stepping on Jeff Sherman’s toes with this post, and undoubtedly we share a lot of the same ideas when it comes to the landscape in Milwaukee’s Downtown. But while strolling around Westown recently, I thought about what might make certain parts of our city center feel more vibrant and welcoming and I wanted to put them out there to debate with you.
I’m not talking about a restaurant here or a retailer there, like "let’s get an IKEA" or "how about an ESPN Zone" or "why no Downtown custard." Instead, I’m thinking about the kinds of bigger-picture pushes that could give some fundamental boost to Downtown; the kind of boost that would draw retailers and other businesses as a result.
These are not revolutionary ideas. We’ve heard them before, but they deserve re-stating and so I’m re-stating them...
- Fewer surface parking lots. Everybody’s been saying this for years. Buildings that were demolished early on in my three decades in Milwaukee have still never been replaced with anything more profound than some parking space stripes. Let’s hope an uptick in the economy creates enough demand that development will urbanize the concrete "prairie" land that checkerboards the city center, creating dead zones that feel lonely and unwelcoming at best, forbidding at worst.
- Park East development. I’m not a Park East naysayer. I’m thrilled the useless spur (talk about a bridge to nowhere, that one exited practically into a strip mall parking lot) is gone and proud of Milwaukee for making that radical move. And, I’ve seen the development that has taken east of 3rd Street (and on the southwest corner of 3rd) so far. Sure, there’s more space open for development east of the river, but the real challenge remains that stretch to the west. The former Pabst brewery is really notching it up and now it is imperative to connect the dots between The Brewery and the development to the east. Let’s hope the endless debate about a new arena doesn’t stymie progress here.
- Wisconsin Avenue is our centerpiece and it needs a breath of fresh air on both sides of the river, but all eyes surely focus on The Shops of Grand Avenue when this topic arises. A lot of ideas have been tried in the mall, some with better results than others. Is it on the rebound now with its mix of retail and office space? Is it time to shut it down completely? Could the mall thrive on a smaller scale? How about a complete re-think, like turning it into a dining, drinking and entertainment venue and canning the retail?
- Keep pushing Third Ward development west across the river. The revitalization of the Pritzlaff building and the Intermodal Station, along with a couple residential buildings (including Soap Works) and the Stone Creek Coffee on 5th Street bode well for the area around St. Paul Avenue. Someday, the post office will actually move and that will leave a stretch of primo land along the river, with views out toward the Harley Museum and the Iron Horse Hotel to the south and of Dowtown to the north and east. Of course, the railroad right of way will be an issue, but if the site could find new life as a multi-use development mixing residential and retail – hey, they could put a post office in there! – it would be a boon to Downtown and could serve as a connector to the development down in the valley.
- Should No. 4 ever come to pass, it may become crucial for the city to find a way to heal the street-level wound created by the I-794 flyover that separates the St. Paul neighborhood from the rest of Downtown. Could that vacant land serve as a sports haven of some kind? Could developers create a version of Paris’ Viaduct des arts? The Milwaukee Public Market is proof that good ideas can work in this challenging space.
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 an episode of TV's "Party of Five," 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 can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.