Dave Reid

Fine, Let the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Expand in Wauwatosa

By - Dec 30th, 2008 12:48 am


Back in March, 2008 I started an organization that worked to convince the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee that expanding into Wauwatosa was the wrong choice for the university, the City of Milwaukee, and Southeast Wisconsin.  The range of issues the Wauwatosa site presents is broad, but generally we focused on showing how a downtown location could meet and exceed UWM’s goals without the additional hurdles that the Wauwatosa site brings with it.

A large hurdle that stood out as particularly problematic is the Wauwatosa site’s suburban environment because it limits students transportation and housing options.  By limiting these options it imposes additional costs and constraints on students that make it more difficult to obtain their education.  For example, a student who had attended UWM during their undergraduate education would now have to commute or move to attend graduate school.  This additional burden could encourage if not require students to acquire a car, adding to their overall expenses.  Further if a student decided it would be best to move from the East Side to be closer to the new campus the availability of affordable housing in the surrounding neighborhoods seems unlikely and unwanted.  Downtown Milwaukee faces neither of these issues.  A student would have good access to transit in downtown Milwaukee and the surrounding neighborhoods would offer a wide range of housing options.

University officials have often stated that the ability to partner with companies operating in the research park and collaborate with the Medical College of Wisconsin were the driving factor behind the expansion plans.  This is a laudable goal but UWM’s strength’s don’t line up with the bio-tech field as strongly as they do with advanced manufacturing and these efforts would likely result in UWM continuing to play second fiddle to Madison.  Downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods, with their better transit options, offer the ability to collaborate with Rockwell Automation, Eaton, Johnson Controls and We Energies all of which more closely align with UWM’s core competences.  Further stronger connections between UWM, Marquette University, MSOE, and MATC could be forged to create an engineering center in downtown Milwaukee where collaboration would be convenient.

In a time when we are all becoming more aware of how land-use negatively impacts the environment for UWM to ignore the negative consequences associated with sprawl and greenfield development is in itself troubling.  The new campus will sit on between 60 and 90 acres of greenfield, some of which is currently zoned parkland, and create a sprawling “research” park.  The early site plans include numerous surface parking lots and a large parking structure which clearly indicates the university leadership’s belief that this development will involve significant amounts of automobile traffic to access the campus.  By promoting, if not requiring, automobile use to access the site UWM is committing itself to be long term polluter of green house gases.  Choosing an urban campus could allow for reduced vehicle use, expanded transit ridership and more students who could access the site by walking or biking.  By promoting dense development and the utilization of these forms of transportation UWM could actually take a leadership position by acting in a truly environmentally friendly manner.

In fact we weren’t alone in these beliefs, as evident by a resolution unanimously approved by the Common Council and signed by Mayor Tom Barrett stating it was the City of Milwaukee’s position that the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee should expand within the City of Milwaukee.

Well I’m here to say I’ve changed my mind.

So I’d like to lay out a few reasons as to why the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee should move their Engineering school to Wauwatosa.

  • By making it more challenging to afford and access graduate school students will learn what life in the “real world” is all about.
  • Providing nearby affordable housing and access to transit options isn’t necessary because students like to drive and there will be plenty of parking spots in the new garage.
  • It easier for UWM to stay in Madison’s shadow instead of becoming a leader in advanced manufacturing or green technology research.
  • Quite frankly, who cares about the environment anyhow.

Sounds great to me, and besides the new UW-Tosa shirts are sure to be big sellers.

Categories: Real Estate

18 thoughts on “Fine, Let the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Expand in Wauwatosa”

  1. Dan Voell says:

    It is very grown up of you to admit when you are wrong. Thanks for fighting the good fight.

    I can’t wait to sport my new UW-Tosa shirt.

  2. Dave Reid says:

    @Dan thanks funny:)

  3. Nate Holton says:

    That sarcasm was rough on the eyes. Where would they have gotten the money for the downtown spot? I was thinking that I would see a comment about how the new location could assist with developing an east/west transit line in the near future.

  4. Dave Reid says:

    @Nate They could get the money for a downtown location from the same place they are getting it for the Tosa site…. A large donor. Or if the County acted in the best interests of the City of Milwaukee or even of UWM they’d sell some land for $1, but the County only appears to care about fixing a budget problem not long term planning.

  5. Nate Holton says:

    If only it were as easy as going to a random large donor and having a building built where you want it and not where they want it.

  6. Dave Reid says:

    True that large donor does have that site in mind but again there are properties the city or county could sell for $1, and there are other large donors in Milwaukee. Further if the only reason they are going to build in in Tosa is because of the donation that just shows how foolish the idea is.

  7. Mike Pandl says:

    If UWM builds its Engineering school in Wauwatosa, and Marquette simultaneously but separately proceeds with its own Engineering campus expansion, Milwaukee will miss out on what has to represent one of the best economic development opportunities the city has ever had.

    There have been dozens of articles written over the last few years in Milwaukee-area publications that cite ad nauseum how Milwaukee needs to learn from and work towards becoming like the Silicon Valley and Research Triangle regions. With MSOE’s considerable downtown presence and the UWM & Marquette engineering expansions, there is a huge opportunity in front of the region right now that, if acted upon, could result in a similar (if less famous) regional identity.

    Location of the new UWM and Marquette Engineering facilities near MSOE would create:

    – A true cluster which could fast become a real economic driver if collaboration is fostered
    – A district within the city that could develop its own identity as an engineering hub, and therefore a destination for talented students, and companies that want to recruit them

    Dave – I would love to see someone write a truly visionary article, complete with professional renderings (which get everyone excited), of what this potential district could be like 15-20 years in the future. There have got to be some talented designers that could help. These renderings could be contrasted with several parking lots photos. 🙂

  8. Stephen F. Thiel says:

    Locating the school in the Park East corridor makes all the sense in the world. We are making a serous mistake if we do not locate the school as close as possible to downtown.

  9. Dave Reid says:

    @Stephen Agreed. The interesting part to me is that County owns both pieces of land so if Milwaukee County was looking out for Milwaukee they could make a deal on either spot to make it financially a wash. Further locating it in the Park East would require much less land, because of transit access, shared parking garages, and the ability to live nearby reducing the need in general for parking….

  10. Joe Klein says:

    Petition the County Board to sell all unsold Park East land to UWM for 1$.

  11. Dave Reid says:

    @Joe, I don’t think think UWM would need nearly all of the Park East land just a small portion of it would work. The reason for the 90 acres in Tosa is to support suburban designs and well 30 acres are for a freeway buffer. But yes a piece could be sold for $1 to allow UWM to build in the Park East.

  12. Joe Klein says:

    UWM could sell any unused land to help fund the University, and I would bet they would do a better job at it than Milwaukee County.

    Milwaukee County is just sitting on it. They don’t even have people actively working to sell or develop it. If UWM had it it would get developed, we would get more tax revenue from what they sell of or from the increased value of the surrounding land.

    Another option: The gift can be sized based on a plan from UWM.

    Mark my words. If the County does not give it to UWM or the City of Milwaukee, it will be a field of weeds for at least another five to ten years.

  13. Paul Theis says:

    I think the downtown cluster idea makes a lot of sense — with a focus, as you say, on “advanced manufacturing” (about which I have a few other strategic development suggestions). And, sorry to say, I do have serious doubts about this area’s abiity to compete — to a sustained degree — at the highest levels in the biotech field, as I believe our competition includes not only states that are investing much more than we are (see Maryland and California), but also India, with its already developed manufacturing infrastructure and experience, its educated workforce, and its well-known cost advantages.

    On the other hand, I did like the idea of a rail link between UWM and Wauwatosa, using existing track (or track routes at least) where possible to keep costs down. Can we do both, with an advanced manufacturing/engineering focus downtown and a biotech focus in Wauwatosa?

  14. MichaelP says:

    At least the leaders of Cardinal Stritch see the value of being downtown….

  15. Dave Reid says:

    As does Marquette which has a bunch of projects going on downtown.

  16. Shelton V says:

    Unbelievable. What gives people the right to be so stupid? Moving parts of UWM to Wauwatosa is criminally dumb. Is there any chance we can get out voices out there? I’ll donate money to a campaign it there’s a chance it will help.

  17. I hope you don’t mind me playing devil’s advocate on behalf of the other 600,000 people who live in the metro area. Given the choice of commuting to downtown or Tosa, most people would pick Tosa as both shorter and less stressful commute and a possibility for ample parking.
    As for the other arguments, it would not be unreasonable to have walking paths built and new bus routes developed to incorporate the new location.
    In fact, with more suburbanites parking in Tosa and taking the bus downtown, the congestion, etc will be reduced to a point where some of us who hate finding a parking spot downtown, might actually consider going down there.
    I am not buying that it would be bad for Milwaukee if Tosa (or any suburb for that matter) became a part of the economic engine of the region by having additional centers of higher learning develop there.
    Just my 2 cents.
    Having said that, there is no reason for urban sprawl. If the entire campus can be built in limited space, why not have the same expectations in Tosa?

  18. Jeramey Jannene says:


    I think there are a few things to take into account.
    1. Universities serve students, most of which don’t live in the suburbs. They are also less likely than the general population to own a car. Nor would we wish to put the burden on them to do so. We also wouldn’t want them to take a 1-hour plus bus ride to get there.
    2. It’s really easy to find a parking spot downtown. There are parking garages everywhere, you want free parking. That’s an issue in and of itself.
    3. It certainly wouldn’t be bad for a suburb to develop into an urban economic engine. Then transit links could be established between the two cores areas. But everytime a suburb talks about growing it’s in an auto-centric sprawling nature.
    4. Simply connecting the two with bus routes isn’t quite enough as I mentioned above. The current system is slow for distances that long. Unreasonably slow. Plus, if the campus is built in an auto-centric nature that’s still going to leave a lot of walking to get to an actual building.

    Thanks for playing devil’s advocate. I think we would welcome the construction of an urban university anywhere in an urban neighborhood in the region. Sadly there just aren’t many real urban neighborhoods in the Milwaukee area. So you end up with the choice between an auto-centric school or an urban school

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