I had been hearing through the rumor mill last week that philanthropist Michael Cudahy was becoming interested in the land occupied by O'Donnell Park. Seeing as though the RFP's were sent out and bids were being taken for the new facade at the O'Donnell Park parking garage, I passed it off as nothing more than rumors.
After all, the County Board had just voted to approve several million dollars for the repair and renovation of the parking garage which is to be done by late June. Progress is being made, how could it be stopped?
Then very quickly it became apparent that something was going on. The agenda for the Parks, Energy and Environment committee had Cudahy set to speak at Tuesday's meeting. Then I call around a bit more and hear that yes, he is in fact planning on something.
Then late on Friday, an article shows up on the jsonline.com site confirming that indeed, Cudahy was trying to insert himself into the decision – which had already been made – about whether or not to repair & renovate O'Donnell Park and it's parking garage:
Milwaukee County should abandon its plans to fix O'Donnell Park and instead demolish it and the nearby county Transit Center to make way for a new, world-class Milwaukee Public Museum and additional development, according to Milwaukee businessman/philanthropist Michael Cudahy.
In an interview Friday, Cudahy said he hoped to spark a community effort for his vision for redefining the prime lakefront location. That vision includes a new home for the public museum as part of a growing museum campus on the lakefront that also includes the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Cudahy-inspired Discovery World Museum.
"I think it can be done," Cudahy said, though it could take five years of planning and fund raising. Cudahy, who has been a major benefactor of Discovery World and other landmark projects, said he wasn't proposing making a major donation himself to launch an effort to redevelop the O'Donnell site.
"I've been doing so much for the community that I'll die not broke but in debt" if he gives away additional large sums, Cudahy said. He called for a communitywide fund-raising effort.
Cudahy suggested that a new Milwaukee Public Museum might cost up to $50 million, though others have speculated that the cost could be far higher. Discovery World, which opened in 2007, cost about $70 million. Cudahy donated about $30 million to that project.
So not only is he calling for the work already in progress to be halted – he doesn't actually have any specific ideas, plans or major backers for his idea – he isn't willing to personally pony up any money for it!
Mr. Cudahy deserves recognition for his willingness to contribute vast sums of his own money to many different projects throughout Milwaukee. But his continued insistence to be the bottleneck for every major project along the lakefront and that he alone knows what's best for our lakefront is growing tiresome. Pier Wisconsin, the UWM Water Research Center and now O'Donnell Park?
The people spoke loud and clear on this issue and the Milwaukee County Board and former County Executive Scott Walker acted accordingly by approving the funds needed to facilitate the repair of the O'Donnell Park parking structure.
If Mr. Cudahy wanted to be a part of that discussion, where was he last fall when it was being debated? It's outrageous that anyone could come in after the fact and basically try to put a project on hold after it's been approved, doubly so when you consider that the person has no actual plan, no backing from major stakeholders and no money.
If government – including acting County Exec. Holloway and Supervisor DeBruin, who seem to be accepting to the plan – are going to let private individuals dictate public policy and projects, then I've got a few projects myself to put on hold. I don't have any specific plans or money of course, but then, neither does Mr. Cudahy.
If an individual like me couldn't get away with something like this (and rightfully so), why should someone like Mr. Cudahy be treated any differently?