Dave Reid

Zweig Project Held by City Committee

By - Apr 1st, 2009 10:28 pm

This committee meeting had numerous items of significance relating to the built environment that were up for debate.  A couple highlights (or lowlights) included the holding of a file over budget concerns, a heated discussion over Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (“CMAQ”) grants, and a most intriguing debate on public art.

The approval of the schematic designs of public artwork which is to be incorporated into streetscape improvements within the first block of East Wisconsin Avenue was up for approval.  The project put out a RFQ to which nearly fifty artists responded.  Artist Janet Zweig was selected to design the artwork and at a recent Streetscape Public Art Advisory Committee meeting the committee approved the schematic design.  The design would include five kiosks attached to five light poles.  Each kiosk would essentially be a historical reference to a type of flip board system that existed in train stations.  Each kiosk would display flip movies of Milwaukee, and would be custom built to hold 80 flaps.  This project was funded under the federal CMAQ program to promote walking as an alternative method of transportation by making improvements to the pedestrian experience.  Additionally, of the total project only a little over 1% of funds has been allocated to public art.

Initially, Alderman Robert Bauman was concerned that there might be a cost to moving this project forward so he questioned, “tell us why this is even in front of us?”  After much discussion it became clear that this file was just the approval of the schematic design and that as he said “rejecting this concept saves no money.”

At this point Alderman Bob Donovan began railing against the design saying “Thomas Edison had that 100 years ago,” and that “I refuse to have my name associated to something as ridiculous as that.”  Alderman Willie Wade took a more measured approach in his response to the work stating “I’m not impressed with this at all” and that “this is too old school for me.”  Attempting to bring the discussion back to the overall idea of improving public space through the addition of public art Alderman Bauman explained that “art is in the eye of the beholder.”  Debra Usinger, who appeared previously in regards to a Riverwalk project, explained that “public art is great” and that despite the sentiment in the room, this art works because “all of a sudden we’ve created discussion in here.”  She added that “I think this is really innovative.”  This file was held to all for public input.

A file that would have funded a variety of nonassessable public improvements was held because of future budgetary concerns.  Alderman Joe Dudzik questioned the wisdom of this spending while planning on significant layoffs, which sparked the discussion regarding holding the file.  Wondering if there was a cost to delay action on the file, Alderman Dudzik questioned “is there any urgency in getting this file passed today?”  Apparently if delayed projects might see a increase of 10% to the cost so the committee held the file with the agreement that a special meeting will be held prior to the Common Council meeting to take action on individual projects.

]Another file proposed authorizing the City Engineer to apply for twelve CMAQ grants.  Alderman Dudzik started the discussion complaining, “does the Department of Public Works understand that the 11th Aldermanic District is in the City of Milwaukee too?”  He was expressing his belief that because none of the projects on this list were in his district, his district was being slighted.  Jeff Polenske , the City Engineer, tried to explain that the process used to pick projects attempts to pick projects that would have a chance of winning and that there was a set of criteria that drives which projects are eligible.  Alderman Bauman attempted to sum up the criteria saying, “gotta have sidewalks for that” indicating that the 11th District isn’t generally pedestrian-oriented, often lacking sidewalks, which these specific grants are often used to improve.  This file was approved and will now go before the full Common Council.

In addition to the previous items, other items of note included Milwaukee Public Schools moving forward on the land sale of the Clairmont property, an easement which was created to facilitate an ADA ramp connecting the Riverwalk along State Street, the news that the Kilbourn Avenue bridge will fully open on May 22nd, and that the Department of Public Works was able to move ahead with their stimulus funds request.

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