Since the proposal of tearing down O'Donnell Park on Milwaukee's lakefront was brought up in a rather ham fisted fashion last fall, I've been following the developments closely.
As you may recall, after a tragic accident that killed a local teen in the summer of 2010, O'Donnell Park and the parking garage underneath was closed. Last winter, several politicians and one well known philanthropist decided they knew what was best to do with the public space at O'Donnell Park and dropped a plan that wasn't much of a plan: tear it down and let the developers at it!
My opposition to that proposal was well known and thankfully cooler heads prevailed at the County Courthouse. As a result, a committee (the Long-Range Lakefront Planning Committee) was formed last spring to evaluate the idea of tearing down O'Donnell Park and what the best long term strategy for the entire lakefront might be. The committee was chaired by Parks Director Sue Black and was to give a report back to the County Board by the end of the summer.
I've been attending these bi-weekly meetings over the course of the summer and The Park People were represented on one of the sub-committees as well. My major point was that O'Donnell Park should not be the focus of redevelopment on the lakefront because 1.) it's a public park that must be preserved for the public good and 2.) when there is so much other land available for use in the area.
The final meeting of the Long-Range Lakefront Planning Committee was yesterday and the final recommendations are encouraging. It's good to see that over the course of the summer, the focus moved away from tearing down O'Donnell Park and took a 'big picture' approach to the area that shifted the focus to the nearby transit center and making the Lincoln Memorial Drive/Michigan Ave. intersection more pedestrian friendly.
The complete summary of recommendations is below. I am very pleased with the final report because I and many other park advocates worked hard to make it known that demolishing a single park would do very little to encourage smart development along the lakefront and that a big picture approach was needed instead. Director Black should be commended on leading a very diverse committee with historically differing views on what the lakefront on Milwaukee should be and getting them to a point of consensus. It was also good to see the cooperation between the County, City and State DOT throughout the process.
While it's not a perfect plan from anyone's perspective, it does address some short terms ideas that everyone should be able to agree on and get progress moving on making Milwaukee's "back door" a more inviting, attractive and useful space than it is today.
- The installation of a biking and walking lane on the Hoan, which the report says would increase connections and draw more residents and visitors to the lakefront.
- The demolition of the transit center. Committee members learned in June the county probably would not have to repay $13.7 million in federal funds used to build the transit center if it's razed.
- The reworking of the Lincoln Memorial Drive/Michigan St. intersection to improve lakefront access for pedestrians and cyclists. That could include the elevated walkways over both streets, as well as eliminating right-turn bypass lanes and creating wider sidewalks to slow down traffic.
- The improvement of biking and walking connections between downtown and the lakefront, which could include the terraced walkway designed by Greg Uhen of Eppstein-Uhen Architects. That walkway would have steps, a ramp for bicycles and wheelchairs, and would replace parts of O'Donnell Park.
- The retention of O'Donnell's parking structure in the short term while preparing for its possible long-term redevelopment. The report says O'Donnell provides 1,140 parking spaces for downtown employees and visitors, while also housing the Betty Brinn Children's Museum and Coast restaurant, with the transit center providing a better location for more immediate development.
- The reconfiguration of ramps tied to the reconstruction of the Lake Interchange, which covers I-794 from N. Milwaukee St. to the Hoan Bridge's northern end, to free up land for development, and improve connections between downtown, the lakefront and the Historic Third Ward. That idea, which committee members first discussed in June, could include the rebuilt Clybourn St., and would target a portion of the parking lots south of Clybourn St., between Van Buren St. and Maier Festival Park.