Dave Reid

MSOE’s Parking Garage #FAIL

By - Feb 13th, 2012 01:04 pm
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MSOE Soccer Parking Facility

MSOE Soccer Parking Facility

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.

Categories: Development News

6 thoughts on “MSOE’s Parking Garage #FAIL”

  1. Jamie says:

    Dave –

    It is not clear from the article, but is MSOE getting some kind of financial assistance from the city towards this development?

    Regarding the “Park East Redevelopment Plan” – Do private (or in this case, a “non-profit”) organizations have to follow the plan? Or is it more of a long term strategy?

    Right now, much of that area is a terrible eye-sore, isn’t some development and land improvement better than just vacant lots? MSOE has already done a tremendous amount to increase the “value” of the area (mueseum, kern center, etc.) and currently only has one very small off-street parking lot for its students (at least when I was there).

    This project is good for MSOE and therefore is good for the city.

  2. Dave Reid says:

    @Jamie
    Well I didn’t get into the deal exactly but the assistance that I see MSOE getting is the city is helping to issue bonds for the project… There is some city direct funds but that I believe is to acquire right-of-way for the new road.

    MSOE or anyone would have to follow the plan, though the city is moving towards removing this land from the plan. Essentially removing zoning, design standards, and use…

    Is anything better than nothing, simple because it is something? No. Don’t get me wrong I’m a big fan of MSOE, lets just say I know a lot of great MSOE grads, but on use, taxbase, impacts to other development, and design this project is a big failure, in my opinion.

  3. Chris says:

    Simply put, this project is an epic fail. Milwaukee gets YET ANOTHER parking garage, four dead city blocks, and more mediocre architecture.

    If MSOE so desperately needs the garage, build it on one of the many surface parking lots that define the campus. How about Milwaukee and State? Line the base with retail — something that could contribute to the campus life. Instead of having an oasis of bad design and completely dead streets in the Park East, you could have added density on campus, one less surface parking lot, and more potential for tax-generating commercial space.

    To really understand how bad this project is, read the High Cost of Free Parking.

  4. Dave Shires says:

    Yep, it’s pretty much crap. But then again, it doesn’t strike me as exactly a permanent structure. In 20 years, it could easily be razed for something legit. I actually like the soccer field idea on top, if they could just do something about the other side.

    This is not the end of the world. Focus on Kohl’s!

  5. Dave Reid says:

    @Dave Oh I like the soccer field as well, though so much more should have been done to make it engaging to the public. And a huge issue is that it locks up that corner of the Park East to be low-use parking… But yeah Kohl’s is the big one..

  6. Peter Zanghi says:

    I kind of agree with Dave Shires on this one. While this isn’t a “temporary” project, if it came down to it in the future and there was enough demand to build with no space left in the Park East, who’s to say that this couldn’t be torn down to make way for a larger development? The parking ramp could likely be rebuilt at another location near campus, if not on campus, as Chris pointed out. The only thing that I see really keeping this project standing long-term (beyond the cost, of course), is the fact that it will be built with the help of a large financial gift. Kind of like how it will be very hard to tear the Bradley Center down for that same reason.

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