By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published May 07, 2021 at 9:05 AM

It’s been nearly 20 years since the Park East freeway spur that slashed across the northern edge of Downtown – separating the heart of the city from its near-north neighborhoods – was torn down.

Though it took a little time to get going – in part because of the land was owned in part by the city and in part by the county – the Park East corridor is now nearly filled on both sides of the river, though a few spots for potential development definitely remain.

But tearing down the barely mile-long remnant of what had been a plan to destroy the lakefront with a freeway has definitely been a boon to the surrounding areas.

It’s easy to see that removing the freeway has exploded development along North Water Street east of the river and Juneau Avenue, as well as the former Pabst complex and Haymarket to the west.

The spur – built in 1971 from 12th Street to Jefferson Street – was meant to be the first part of a route from I-43 up along the lakefront to just past North Avenue to the east. A western portion was to connect 43 with what is now Highway 175.

Much demolition for the right of way was completed, but only this little section was ever built.

When then-Mayor John Norquist managed to get the spur torn down in 2002-03, it was national news and inspired other cities to make similar moves. (Sadly, Milwaukee itself wasn’t able to make magic happen twice when 794 was rebuilt between the Marquette Interchange and the Hoan Bridge.)

More than 26 acres on 28 city blocks were converted from dead under-freeway space to real estate available for development.

Now instead of mostly empty short freeway spur that might’ve made travel slightly easier for a few people, we have a booming Brewery District, the Deer District with apartments, a practice facility, a Froedtert clinic building, an Aloft Hotel, the Moderne, an MSOE soccer field, new office buildings, Rhythm and the North End and other residential developments that provide homes, jobs, entertainment and tax revenues for the city.

Then there’s the future new Deer District hotel, as well as a new location for the Milwaukee Public Museum and Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, as well as other planned developments, like a Harley dealership and a large American Family Insurance office building, to name a couple.

Thanks to MattO for sharing these images he took of the demolition nearly two decades ago...

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Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

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.