Streetcar Signing Is Quite a Celebration
The mayor, business leaders and pols toasted the streetcar in Cudahy's Irish Pub, with Michael Cudahy on hand.
“It is not often you as a mayor get to say this is truly an historic day.”
The most debated public works project in the history of the City of Milwaukee was passed into law on Tuesday, February 10th, 2015 when Mayor Tom Barrett signed legislation authorizing the city to proceed with its 24-year old plan to develop a streetcar line. The mayor affixed his signature with a stationery store’s worth of pens which he handed out with abandon to commemorate the event.
It was in 1991 that the city received its federal appropriation to construct a fixed rail transit system in Milwaukee. For over two decades the project has sustained AM talk radio station opposition, received support from forward-looking citizens and underwent over 40 Common Council committee hearings.
The streetcar survived legislative meddling, a raid on a portion of its appropriation, a last-minute shadowy petition drive to force a referendum and a host of other indignities.
The ceremony, attended by a host of urban and streetcar activists as well as supportive aldermen and others, was held in Cudahy’s Irish Pub in the Pabst, in full sight of where the old #10 streetcar line used to run.
Among the attendees was 90-year old Michael J. Cudahy, the pub’s patron and namesake, who was a vociferous supporter of the project. While the others in the room snacked on fruit, pastries, cheese and sausage while sipping soft drinks, Pabst Theater boss Gary Witt materialized with a glass of Early Times Bourbon for Cudahy. Ald. Bob Bauman was one of the first to offer his remarks to Cudahy, who was sitting front and center for the signing ceremony.
The mayor announced in his remarks that the project had been “fully debated.” The deed was done “in the middle of the day,” unlike so many controversial acts (particularly those of the legislature) that have taken place in the dead of the night.
The streetcar legislation was a stand-alone measure, the mayor reminded the audience, and was not something “tacked on to a budget amendment,” another legislative specialty of the Scott Walker era.
Now that Barrett has the financing to put shovels into the ground, he plans to get more money for the project. “I plan to be aggressive and assertive with the Federal government on financing,” he said. The mayor also hinted that he will also propose a city residence preference for workers on the project, receiving applause from the audience.
Among the attendees was Rocky Marcoux, the Commissioner of the Department of City Development, who now has another tool in his arsenal to promote construction downtown. He was joined by Gary Grunau, a local developer who says he only has one unit left to sell at the Edge Condominiums on N. Commerce St. His Schlitz Park development downtown is now a magnet for young professionals who are a target audience of streetcar promoters and local real estate developers.
Also in attendance was Rick Barrett, whose proposal for The Couture, a mixed use development downtown, was tied to the streetcar project. Revenues generated from the tax increment of The Couture (a key component of the streetcar legislation) will be used to help finance it.
Some other developers and real estate interests with a stake in the outcome were not present at the event. Perhaps they were back at their offices jacking up the prices of the land they own along the streetcar’s right-of-way.
Marcoux, Grunau and the mayor agreed with this reporter’s assessment that the mere signing of the bill will almost certainly have a positive effect on the value of properties adjacent to the streetcar line. In short order, the assessor will note this, too, as will City Treasurer Spencer Coggs, who was present, when he deposits their property tax checks.
Beth Weirick of the downtown Business Improvement District stopped by to catch the action, and chatted with Grunau and others, including Kris Martinsek, a consultant who has kept up a steady stream of streetcar-related activities over the years. She was wearing a Milwaukee Streetcar T-Shirt.
In his remarks, the mayor spread his thanks and recognition widely to the politicians, business leaders and others who supported the project, singling out for particular attention the work of this publication. He noted that in addition to the website’s exhaustive coverage of the issue, Urban Milwaukee: The Store has offered T-shirts like Martinsek’s for years.
Also in the audience was Public Works Commissioner Ghassan Korban whose department will play a significant role in the construction of the project, including the relocation of underground utilities, the cost of which the city will be forced to bear, thanks to the project’s opponents. City Engineer Jeff Polenske was also in attendance. He gets to work out the details of the project with his staff. Pat Curley, the mayor’s chief of staff, also left his desk to appear at the historic event.
Bill Sell, a longtime supporter of transit projects in general, was there with Bruce Speight, the director since 2008 of the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group. Not far away was Kevin Hardman, the director of the Bubblr Bike Share program here.
The mayor told Hardman that he will ensure that the streetcar will “dovetail” with the bike share program. County Board Chair Marina Dimitrijevic made an appearance, while County Executive Chris Abele did not. No complaints from either about that! Jeremy Hooper, the graphic designer for the board of supervisors, also took in the proceedings.
Six of the streetcar’s aldermanic supporters made the trek across N. Water St. from City Hall for the event. They were Willie Wade, Bauman, Ashanti Hamilton, Jose Perez, Nik Kovac and council president Michael Murphy. Also there was Grace Fuhr, the fiancee of Kovac, who announced her wedding plans. Nancy O’Keefe of the Historic Third Ward came by to show her support and to visit with the others.
Julia Taylor was present at the signing. Her Greater Milwaukee Committee took no official position on the streetcar, nor did the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. Its head, Tim Sheehy, was not present.
The day before, at the GMC annual meeting held at the University Club, former Minneapolis mayor R. T. Ryback stressed the streetcar’s importance in turning Milwaukee into what he called a “truly great city” instead of a merely “all right city.”
In the old days, he said at the University Club, cities were considered countercultural — a place for the poor and outcast. Today, he said, “cities are the mainstream, where people want to live.”
For the parents of the current generation, he said, the automobile equaled “freedom.” For today’s millennials, he said, “living without a car equals freedom.”
And now we are free to construct this vital urban amenity.
Photos from the Signing Ceremony
More about the Milwaukee Streetcar
For more information on project details, how the operator will be selected, what the vehicles will be like, and possible extensions, see our extensive past coverage.
- Eyes on Milwaukee: County Gets Waiver on Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Apr 17th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Rails Being Welded - Jeramey Jannene - Apr 7th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: City Won’t Delay Streetcar for County - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 28th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: County Board Okays Bid for Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 23rd, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Track Steel Has Arrived - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 16th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Should County Operate Streetcar? - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 8th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Track Construction Starts in April - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 17th, 2017
- Streetsblog: 80 Transit Projects in 2017 - Angie Schmitt - Feb 6th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: The Milwaukee Streetcar is Hiring - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 20th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Project Receives Federal Grant - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 12th, 2016
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Cincinnati Streetcar Opens - Jeramey Jannene - Sep 19th, 2016
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Okays Streetcar to Bucks Arena - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 6th, 2016
- Eyes on Milwaukee: $6.5 Million in Streetcar Savings - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 26th, 2016
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Donovan Lies About Streetcar Suit - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 15th, 2016
- Eyes on Milwaukee: BID Sells Streetcar-Related Development - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 15th, 2016
- Murphy’s Law: Do Millennials Oppose the Streetcar? - Bruce Murphy - Dec 15th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Pennsylvania Company Wins Streetcar Contract - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 13th, 2015
- Plenty of Horne: City Accepts $14 Million Federal Streetcar Grant - Michael Horne - Oct 29th, 2015
- Back in the News: Anti-Streetcar Petition Dies - Bruce Murphy - Aug 28th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Scott Walker Aids Milwaukee Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 13th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Construction Starts in October - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 10th, 2015
- Murphy’s Law: The Strange Politics of Anti-Streetcar-ites - Bruce Murphy - Jun 18th, 2015
- Plenty of Horne: Bucks Plan Envisions Arena Streetcar - Michael Horne - Apr 8th, 2015
- A Short History of Milwaukee’s Old Streetcar System - Ken Smith - Mar 31st, 2015
- Plenty of Horne: Davis Sets, Cancels Meeting on Streetcar - Michael Horne - Mar 17th, 2015
- Back in the News: Anti-Streetcar Petition Drive Fails - Bruce Murphy - Mar 5th, 2015
- Friday Photos: Streetcar Signing Is Quite a Celebration - Michael Horne - Feb 13th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Milwaukee Streetcar Approved - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 10th, 2015
- Murphy’s Law: Who is “Lobbying” For the Streetcar? - Bruce Murphy - Feb 5th, 2015
- Data Wonk: Will Streetcar Help The Inner City? - Bruce Thompson - Feb 4th, 2015
- Back in the News: City Attorney Says Streetcar Petitions Might be Moot - Bruce Murphy - Jan 30th, 2015
- Data Wonk: Millennials And The Streetcar - Bruce Thompson - Jan 27th, 2015
- Op-Ed: Why I Support the Streetcar - Russell Rossetto - Jan 26th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Responses Shows Wide Support - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 22nd, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Approved, but Held - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 21st, 2015
- Murphy’s Law: Koch-Funded Group Backs Anti-Streetcar Drive - Bruce Murphy - Jan 20th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Backers Say They Have the Votes - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 20th, 2015
- Murphy’s Law: Who Is Funding the Anti-Streetcar Effort? - Bruce Murphy - Jan 20th, 2015
- Op Ed: Why the Streetcar Won’t Work - Samuel Jensen - Jan 14th, 2015
- Murphy’s Law: Will Anti-Streetcar Referendum Succeed? - Bruce Murphy - Jan 9th, 2015
- The Story Behind the Streetcar Referendum - Michael Horne and Bruce Murphy - Jan 8th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Delays Streetcar Until January - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 16th, 2014
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Committee Takes No Action on Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 10th, 2014
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Committee Approves Milwaukee Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 9th, 2014
- Plenty of Horne: RACM Approves Tax Funding for Streetcar - Michael Horne - Dec 2nd, 2014
- Plenty of Horne: How to Sell the Streetcar - Michael Horne - Nov 28th, 2014
- Plenty of Horne: Next Stops For The Streetcar - Michael Horne - Nov 24th, 2014
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Barrett Moving Forward With Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 18th, 2014
- Plenty of Horne: Who Will Be Streetcar Operator? - Michael Horne - May 8th, 2014
- Back in the News: A Streetcar Named Cooperation? - Dave Reid - Apr 27th, 2014
- Streetsblog: How a Streetcar Spurs Development - Angie Schmitt - Nov 3rd, 2013
- Plenty of Horne: Streetcar Social - Michael Horne - Sep 12th, 2013
- Republicans Move to Kill Milwaukee Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - May 9th, 2013
- Plenty of Horne: Mayor Says Streetcar is “Trojan Horse” - Michael Horne - Apr 17th, 2013
- Streetcar Meeting on Tuesday - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 29th, 2012
- Donovan’s New Anti-Streetcar Allies - Jeramey Jannene - Aug 16th, 2012
- Battle of the Bobs: Donovan vs Bauman Streetcar Press Conference - Jeramey Jannene - May 18th, 2012
- Milwaukee Streetcar Hearing at Frontier Airlines Center - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 15th, 2011
- Important Hoan Bridge and Milwaukee Streetcar Meetings this Week - Dave Reid - Nov 14th, 2011
- Milwaukee Streetcar Passes Common Council, Proceeds to Final Engineering - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 26th, 2011
- Alderman Donovan Proposes Delaying the Streetcar Project - Dave Reid - Jul 19th, 2011
- Barrett says Streetcar is an investment in growing Milwaukee - Patti Wenzel - Jul 13th, 2011
- Keep the Milwaukee Streetcar Moving Forward - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 8th, 2011
- Milwaukee Streetcar at Apex - Jeramey Jannene - Jun 16th, 2011
- Milwaukee Streetcar Takes Key Step Forward - Jeramey Jannene - May 6th, 2010
- Streetcars and Trams Around the World - Dave Reid - Feb 1st, 2010
- Milwaukee Streetcar Meeting This Thursday - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 5th, 2009
- Downtown Streetcar Open House - Jeramey Jannene - Sep 23rd, 2009
- Milwaukee Streetcar Routes Unveiled by Mayor Barrett - Jeramey Jannene - Sep 21st, 2009
- Common Council Creates Streetcar Committee - Dave Reid - Jun 18th, 2009
- Milwaukee Streetcar Round-Up - Jeramey Jannene - Apr 19th, 2009
- Vote For Your Favorite Milwaukee Streetcar Route - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 25th, 2009
- Design Your Own Streetcar Route - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 23rd, 2009
- Milwaukee Streetcar Map - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 21st, 2009
- Streetcars Coming to Milwaukee - Dave Reid - Mar 14th, 2009
- Palomar or Streetcar? - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 22nd, 2009