By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Mar 08, 2016 at 3:35 PM

This afternoon, the Milwaukee Art Museum held a press conference alongside County Executive Chris Abele and members of the Milwaukee County Board to announce an offer to purchase the O’Donnell parking garage, as well as present plans and improvements to the property.

"What I’m going to talk about today is an unprecedented public-to-public transaction that will provide for the long-term preservation of public assets," said Milwaukee Art Museum director Dan Keegan. "We’re excited about this announcement and believe it’s an important step for our city, county and the community at large."

"We think that through this great partnership between us and Milwaukee County, we’re also going to be able to create a new entry point onto the lake which is … dramatically more interesting, more welcoming and more beautiful than the current entry point that comes in off Wisconsin Avenue," added Milwaukee Art Museum Board of Trustees President Don Layden. 

Northwestern Mutual previously attempted to purchase O’Donnell Park from the county back in 2014, but the Milwaukee County Board voted down the sale due to concerns over the price, the appraisal, the lack of protection for the public use of the space and the general precedent of selling parkland. 

Under the terms of the Milwaukee Art Museum’s offer, the museum would assume $28.8 million in liabilities, as well as receive ownership of the Kahler Building and the space inside the Saarinen Building – the latter of which is currently occupied by the museum. The proposal also includes the museum assuming the responsibility for the county’s current 84-year obligation for maintenance and repair for the facilities – valued today at $28.8 million – as well as the cost burden for structural repairs for the property.

After the necessary repairs are made, Keegan noted the museum’s goal is to renovate and upgrade the O’Donnell parking structure with automated pre-pay booths, electronic signs, energy-efficient lighting and 24-hour security.

Layden noted during Tuesday’s announcement that the partnership had the potential to accomplish three main objectives: providing permanence and stability for the museum, relieving county taxpayers of the long-term commitment to maintaining the buildings and ensuring public access to the lakefront for years to come.

"With the newly renovated museum drawing more and more visitors, the structure will continue to be a prime parking location in what is a true destination at Milwaukee’s beautiful lakefront," Keegan said.

In addition to repairing and updating the parking garage, Keegan also outlined some of the early aesthetic proposals to the O’Donnell Park property, which he noted was a "fairly dated experience" in its current form.

"What if you could unify the design, what if you could provide a feeling of more green space in a fairly limited area, what if you could eliminate much of the concrete to enhance the park-like setting and make it flow and connect in some way so that, ultimately, it is natural as it links to what will be the Couture project and the Gateway project someday," Keegan explained.

The early perspective concept images, designed along with Graef, featured two key elements: a dynamic "ribbon walk" open pathway that goes through the property from north to south, as well as indicated locations where the Milwaukee Art Museum could display sculptures in the hopes of turning the park into a sculpture park. The "maze" of poles and lights would be gone, Keegan also proposed, with seating with more underlighting.

"We believe we have a true win-win-win for everyone," Keegan added. 

County Executive Abele and County Supervisor Theo Lipscomb also added their support for the proposed Milwaukee Art Museum offer at the press event.

"What’s unique about this deal and this partnership with the Art Museum that no other buyer, no other partner could bring to this is not only that exchange in terms of value, but also the commitment to the public access, and that’s the difference in this deal for me," Lipscomb added. "The idea that all of this land will remain public parkland – we’re transferring buildings, but there will remain public access, there will remain the ability to be there and free speech and all those important public aspects – that’s a component of this deal that’s just so unique, and it’s not reflected in the numbers."

 "When we have an agreement like this, that furthers a great institution like the Art Museum, gives them more predictability, allows this great institution to provide even more value to the community and we can do it in a way that increases the sustainability of Milwaukee County, that’s a pretty special thing, and it’s worth celebrating," Abele said.

The next stop for the Milwaukee Art Museum’s offer is the Finance, Personnel and Audit Committee – which will discuss the offer at its meeting on Thursday, March 10 – as well as the County Board, which will vote on approving the partnership a week later on Thursday, March 17. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.