By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Dec 18, 2014 at 1:46 PM

After a long discussion, the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors voted down the sale of O'Donnell Park to Northwestern Mutual at a meeting Thursday morning at the Milwaukee County Courthouse.

The measure lost, 8-9, with Sups. Mark Borkowski, Khalif Rainey, James Schmitt, Anthony Staskunas, Steve Taylor, Martin Weddle, Deanna Alexander and chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic voting for the sale, and Sups. Theodore Lipscomb, Gerry Broderick, Jason Haas, Patricia Jursik, John Weishan, Peggy Romo West, Michael Mayo, David Bowen and Willie Johnson voting against it.

"Our ancestors had no problem preserving lakefront, and it's amazing to me that we don't get it," Jursik said. "You have to preserve your lakefront park. It's the soul of Milwaukee. I am relieved and pleased, but concerned because that was a close vote."

Three groups seemed to emerge during the pre-vote discussion: those supporting the sale, those against the selling of parkland on all terms and those against this particular sale due to the terms.

Opponents of the sale raised issues with a price they deemed too low – $14 million, though the price also included a $1.3 million credit for NML to pay for maintenance on the parking structure – the appraisal, the lack of protection for public use of the space and the general precedent of selling parkland. 

Supervisors supporting the sale, however, pointed to the current underutilization of the park and the repairs required to bring it up to the standard of Milwaukee's "emerald necklace" of parks. 

During the discussion, Bowen made a motion to lay over the vote further while seeking clarification on the appraisal and on Northwestern Mutual's plan to protect public use of the space. After some debate, however, that motion was defeated in a 3-14 vote, and the board continued with discussion and the eventual decision. 

With the sale to NML defeated, the question now turns to what is next for O'Donnell Park. 

"I think we clean it up," Jursik said. "Supervisor Haas and I are going to force the administration, who has not been doing their job. I am critical because we are letting this thing run down so we can make the argument that we're now going to sell off parks. That's terrible. Put a beer garden up there; that'd be great, and we don't need NEWaukee to tell us that. We've been doing beer gardens already. That should be a prime location."

Jursik also suggested opening a coffee shop, putting flowers back into planters, replacing burned-out lightbulbs and cleaning up the space. Supervisors on the other side of the vote, however, were less confident about the space's future.

"We have a lot of deferred maintenance, we have financial issues and we haven't planned on what we're going to do with this property," Taylor said. "Right now, we're not putting money toward what we do next. They (NML) were willing to take that off of our hands. Now, instead of getting $5 million, we have to budget $1.7 or $2 million to do just the minor repairs. And that affects our other parks and other roads and things like that.

"I don't understand these grandiose plans of beer gardens," Taylor continued. "Beer gardens are very successful so maybe we can do something there, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to turn into the park that Northwestern Mutual would have turned it into. And I think that's what is disappointing."

The meeting began with several County Board members displaying "I Can’t Breathe" shirts and making statements about the shooting of Dontre Hamilton and Gov. Scott Walker’s recent announcement that the National Guard will be ready if needed when the impending decision is made public.