MSOE’s Parking Garage #FAIL
Milwaukee County and the City of Milwaukee City Plan Commission both unanimously recommended approval of the Milwaukee School of Engineering’s parking garage proposal in the Park East. These approvals point out that City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County politicians are anxious to see new development in the Park East. Unfortunately, as currently conceived this isn’t a project worthy of approval.
During the City Plan Commission hearing Dr. Viets, Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) President, stated that “I view this request before you, as part of our commitment to downtown”, and there is no doubt that MSOE is committed to and critical to downtown Milwaukee (note without MSOE there would likely not be an Urban Milwaukee), but this is not the right way to show MSOE’s commitment.
To quote Dr. Herman Viets, President MSOE, “…we could certainly do better”. Yes, we, as in Milwaukee County, the City of Milwaukee, and MSOE can certainly do better.
Issues with the project
- Does not meet the requirements of the Park East Redevelopment Plan. As Vanessa Koster, of the Department of City Development, explained during the City Plan Commission meeting, “since it does not comport to the design standards of the Park East Redevelopment Plan” action is needed to remove the parcel from the Redevelopment Area. In this case the parking garage doesn’t meet the height requirements, the mixed-use requirement, won’t create any sort of terminating vista, and in fact deviates from the street design’s within the plan, as Ogden Avenue will not be put through if this project moves forward. The plan for the Park East was worthy when originally developed, and this project doesn’t come close to offering benefits that exceed the design requirements.
- Does not maximize tax-base creation. Although MSOE will pay property taxes on the 12,000 SF retail slot, and any parking spots leased out to non-MSOE users, it is possible that when the BMO Harris lease runs out the entire parking portion of the facility will become tax exempt. Discussions about this garage catalyzing future Park East development have taken place, and are flawed, MSOE has made it clear that in the long-run they intend to utilize the full garage, leaving no space for other regular users.
- Limits a large portion of the Park East to a single use – parking. As part of the deal BMO Harris’ (M&I) is acquiring a key parcel of Park East property along Water St (in exchange for selling a parcel to MSOE). The agreement specifies that BMO Harris won’t use the site as a surface parking lot for at least five years, but after that time period the possibility of that parcel becoming surface parking is high. Bruce Westling, President of NAI MLG Commercial, who spoke in support of the project did so with a caveat, “I’d be very concerned that we get lulled into a green space for 5 years and then parking”.
- Design does not address the street. Although the soccer field will be at ground level at Broadway and Knapp Street, there appears to be extremely minimal consideration for creating a public space that draws people into the field. Much of the building will present itself to the street as a parking garage, which is not a use that will serve to activate the street. Further, the proposal does include a park space along Water St., but seems to be of an more an afterthought than a key component of the design. In addition, as MSOE participates in Division 3 athletics it is likely that thousands of seats aren’t needed, but the current seating plans are underwhelming.
- Encourages driving. Although the intention is for this to be used for long-term parking for students, the likely outcome will be more driving from students as a result hundreds of additional parking stalls being placed so near to campus.
How did we get here?
There’s a feeling in the community that the City of Milwaukee needs something, apparently anything, to be happening in the former right-of-way of the Park East freeway. And apparently Milwaukee County simply needs funds. In particular the support for the project stems from the funds being earmarked to fund the Ready to Work program, a job skill training program for city youth. Additionally, some members of the Milwaukee County Board were looking for a win for the Park East Redevelopment Compact, as made evident in a recent comment by Supervisor Dimitrijevic, “our standards to build sustainably, hire locally, and pay family- supporting wages will be met.” For MSOE it is about replacing approximately 200 spaces that are rented across the river (and adding hundreds more spaces), so these spots will be closer for students to access. Development in the Park East, and jobs for Milwaukee County residents are all laudable goals, but are they good enough reasons to forgo a good project down the line for this one? No.
Despite supporting the project, Alderman Kovac summed up a key concern regarding this project, “if this lot ever becomes surface parking, this project will be a mistake”. The alderman is right, if the adjacent lot does become a surface parking lot, the project is a clear failure, but we believe for the reasons listed above this project is already a failure.